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Flood: Nineteeen

...Robert had retained a fondness for box seven and reserved it every night he was in town. The rabble in the pit booed him with good nature as a matter of course, for they believed hed become the sole proprietor of Singing Jenny's affections.

He acknowledged their misconception with a smile and a wave of his hand but deterred, with a steely gaze, approaches from gentlemen who wished to make his acquaintance, and who were now obliged to pay other young ladies for surreptitious visits to their boxes.,,

Emma Cookson continues her gripping story of love and revenge set in the 19th Century.

A lot had happened since his return. His plans were taking firmer shape with every passing week but his fervour had lost its edge and, in quiet moments, he began to question the validity of his reasons.

There had been a change in Beth, too, for she no longer seemed so close. Perhaps that came from being both Beth and Jenny. Perhaps it came from something he had inadvertently said or done. He didnt want a gulf to develop between them, for she meant more to him than she could possibly know. He believed fate rather than coincidence had brought them together and had done so for a purpose. He relied upon her laughter, her reality, her goodness and her good sense.

By God, but in America she would do well with her fire and independent spirit. Never mind this often threatened escape to London, if she had a mind to be a real success, she should try the new world where all things were possible. Never mind an earl. Beth could be become a queen in her own right on the other side of the Atlantic.

He smiled in the dim and soothing light of the box as the rabble in the pit below chatted during the interval. He smoked a cigar and ran the day-dream in his mind, of how he would finance her conquest of America. Little Beth with the runny nose had become Singing Jenny but she could be so much more. They had a winning combination: she had talent and he had money.

But that would never happen, for his industrial investments were demanding most of his time and application. When hed first envisaged his grand plan, the details hadnt intruded. Now, the deeper he got, the deeper he became enmeshed and he had still not seen Jane nor attempted to communicate with her. How could he, when she was his brother's wife?

He had given up thoughts of personal happiness. Like Beth, he was determined to play a role and be the catalyst for reform. He had hoped that might provide satisfaction but it hadn't. Perhaps it would have been better if hed remained in America. There had been occasions, during the four years of his exile, when hed been close to death. A swift end then, rather than this lingering complexity and inner analysis, might have been preferable.

America had been so much simpler.

A tap on the door jamb attracted his attention and the curtain was lifted to one side by a small, round man who bulged his clothes. He carried a walking stick in one hand and removed his hat with the other.

"Profuse apologies for the intrusion, dear sir, but I wonder if I might prevail upon you for a moment of your time?"

The accent was hybrid American and Robert smiled and got to his feet.

"Come in, sir. I have been looking forward to making your acquaintance."

"Indeed?" The small man smiled in turn and they shook hands and Robert pointed him to a chair and they both sat. The small man sat on the edge of the chair so that his feet would reach the ground. "You are most gracious, sir." He handed Robert a card upon which was printed The Pinkerton Detective Agency with a Chicago address. "My name is Cosmo Pinkerton."

Robert raised an appreciative eyebrow.

"A detective?"

Pinkerton brushed a hand down his waistcoat as if in explanation and said, "I try not to be obvious."

"You succeed."

"You are extremely kind."

"But why does a detective from Chicago have such an interest in me that he has asked questions in Bradfield and Helston?"

"You heard about my inquiries?"

"Of course. You may not look like a detective, Mr Pinkerton, but you are indubitably of American origin. You might as well have worn feathers in your hair and paint upon your face." He drew on his cigar and exhaled smoke. "In this part of the world, Americans are exotic. Even ones from Chicago."

Pinkerton beamed and said, "You make me feel quite the celebrity."

"And so you are. And Im still waiting for an answer."

"Of course, and I shall oblige. But first, may I ask, sir, do you know anyone by the name of Joshua Rowntree?"

Robert said, "Im sorry. I dont know the gentleman."

"Perhaps you would humour me, Mr Dyce, and allow me to mention the names of two other gentlemen whom you may, or may not, know?"

"If this will eventually lead to an explanation, then please continue."

Pinkerton smiled and said, "Do you recall meeting, upon your travels in the southern states of America, a Mr William Bunsen?"

"I do not."

"Or, perhaps, Mr Gabriel Tyler?"

"These names mean nothing to me."

What a shame. It would have been so much easier if you had remembered them."

Robert shrugged and said, "Perhaps you will now give me an explanation?"

"Of course, and I apologise for the extraneous manner of my preamble. I am, in truth, looking for the gentleman named Joshua Rowntree. A year ago, Mr Rowntree was in the Carolinas and purporting to be a broker in business and a gentleman of substantial means and titled acquaintance.

"He ingratiated himself with Mr Gabriel Tyler, a major property owner in both the northern and southern Carolina states. Mr Tyler is to cotton what your Queen is to empire. If you get my drift?"

Robert said, "I do indeed. You are very eloquent, Mr Pinkerton." He held up the brandy bottle on the table by his side in an offer to the detective and the small man smiled.

With pleasure, sir."

"Please go on," said Robert, pouring Pinkerton a drink, handing him the glass, and topping up his own.

"Your continued good health."

"And yours."

The two men sipped the brandy and Pinkerton continued.

"As you are no doubt aware, a great deal of American cotton is shipped to England. In particular, to the cotton mills of Lancashire." Robert nodded. "Joshua Rowntree proposed to Mr Tyler, that it might make fine business sense if he not only grew the cotton, but owned the mills where it was turned into cloth for the European market."

Robert said, "Sounds like a good idea."

"That's what Mr Tyler thought." The small man had another drink of brandy. "Mr Rowntree also made the acquaintance of Mr William Bunsen, of Manchester, England, who owns a number of cotton mills in Lancashire. Mr Bunsen was on a visit.

"Mr Rowntree proposed to Mr Bunsen that it might make fine business sense if he not only owned the mills where cotton became cloth, but the plantations where it was grown. Such an arrangement would alleviate any problem in market fluctuations and, in the business vernacular, would condense costs."

Robert said, "Sounds like another good idea."

"That is precisely what Mr Bunsen thought." Pinkerton sat back and smiled benignly at Robert. "A very clever laddie, our Mr Rowntree."

"He certainly sounds that way."

"Perhaps you can hazard a guess at the outcome?"

"I do not like guessing. Please tell me."

"Rowntree arranged a meeting between the two to propound the one idea to which they were both smitten. He then negotiated, with each one separately. He negotiated with Mr Tyler, an extension of his business empire into Europe, by the purchase of three cotton mills, and their attendant sheds, houses, cottages and land, belonging to Mr Bunsen. He negotiated with Mr Bunsen a similar proposition in reverse, namely, that he purchase plantations, belonging to Mr Tyler, and the property therein."

Robert queried, "The property therein?"

"The workforce, Mr Dyce."

"Ah. The slaves, Mr Pinkerton."

The detective nodded and said, "Remarkably as it may seem, both transactions went ahead with Rowntree as the broker. In such capacity, he received the monies raised in bankers drafts, which he transferred three times, before realising the total in gold and, perhaps not remarkably, affecting a disappearance."

Robert exhaled and, momentarily, disappeared himself in the smoke. He pointed with the cigar to accentuate the points he was making.

"Mr Rowntree disappeared with the gold?"

"Correct."

"Mr Tyler did not gain three mills and attendant properties in Lancashire?"

"Correct."

"Mr Bunsen did not gain plantations and slaves in the Carolinas?"

"Also correct."

"Did they get anything?"

"Both gentlemen received rather fine sets of legal documents with forged signatures that have no standing in law. They also received bank drafts that were very fine forgeries indeed, but all the documents were of only intrinsic value and certainly not worth what they had paid."

"Which was?"

"In total and in gold and in round figures? 120,000."

Robert chuckled.

"Very round figures," he said.

The two men sipped brandy and smiled at each other.
Pinkerton said, "Have you ever visited the Carolinas, Mr Dyce?"

"Sadly not. It seems the pickings there are somewhat easier than in the gold fields of California."

"Ah yes. You also have an interest in gold?"

"Doesn't everybody?"

"I am told you have a mine."

"Had a mine."

"One that ensured your wealth?"

"That is no secret."

"To the tune of 120,000?"

He shrugged and said, "Im a businessman, Mr Pinkerton. The extent of my wealth is private."

"Quite, quite."

"More brandy?"

"Thank you, yes." He held out his glass while Robert poured. "I am sorry if there has been confusion over your identity but we have to pursue all lines of inquiry and there was a speculation, for a time, that you might have known ..." he chuckled "... even have been, Mr Joshua Rowntree."

They toasted each other with replenished glasses.

"I would count myself fortunate to be as clever as the gentleman you describe."

"You see, you are alike, in age and nationality." He sipped from the glass. "Even, if you will pardon such an indelicate reference, to the scar upon your cheek."

Robert shook his head to show he had not taken offence.

"It was my experience that scars were an everyday hazard in your homeland," he said. "Mine own I received in England. The result of a youthful duel."

"Thank goodness it was nothing more serious."

They continued to exchange smiles.

Robert said, "Will you pursue your hunt for Mr Rowntree elsewhere in England?"

"I think not."

"Will you, then, be returning to Chicago?"

"Not immediately. Mr Albert Bunsen has, sadly died. An omnibus accident in Manchester, although I am acting for his heirs. I have written to Mr Tyler, who has been planning a visit to England for some time. Fair weather and business commitments permitting, he will be here in the new year. I shall wait upon his arrival and act as his guide."

"And will you bring him here, to Bradfield?"

"But of course. I have developed a fondness for this town. Perhaps Mr Tyler might find something here that might make his trip worthwhile."

As if on cue, the band struck up a tune and Ebenezer Burke strode onto the stage of the music hall to cheers and applause. The interlude was over.

"The entertainment is about to resume," said Robert. "I would be happy if you would do me the honour of remaining as my guest and enjoying the rest of the performance. Jenny tells me they are to perform a new divertissement. A comedy play."

"Delighted," said Pinkerton, and adjusted his chair to face the stage. He now sat back in it and rested his small feet in their cloth boots upon the edge of the box. "I feel I know you, Mr Dyce. I feel we shall become friends."

"Nothing would delight me more, Mr Pinkerton. I think we have a great deal in common."

Ebby Burke announced the first performance north of Birmingham of How To Settle Accounts With Your Laundress.

"A comedy of errors, dirty shirts and amour that might have been written by Shakespeare." The audience groaned mockingly at his grave delivery. "Eric Shakespeare," he added. "The one with the pie shop in The Shambles."

The audience roared its approval and Burke backed off stage to make a quick-change as a back-cloth dropped that purported to show the interior of the shop of Whittington Widgett, Tailor To The Fashionable. Burke reappeared and the comedy began and Robert smiled and let his mind drift back to America.


**

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