‘Ah! Light lovely lady with delicate lips aglow
With breast more white than a heavy-laden branch of snow,
When my hand was uplifted at Mass to salute the Host,
I looked at you at once and half of my soul was lost’
One can no more describe the effect the sun’s rays have on the fragile petals of an Anthurium. Than one can the effect of two handsome women, at leisure and walking arm in arm through Kew Gardens in the early morn. The Arboretums are lush and fragrant at this time of year and the alluring scent of the Magnolia trees, causes them to wander wistfully through its drooping blooms. Garbed in wine coloured velvet and lace, Lady Grid-Iron is a vision to behold, small wonder then that she has caught the eye of many a perambulating gentleman. Mrs Cassiopeia-Thickett, with her demure manner and graceful carriage, is a regular feature of the gardens at Kew. Famed for her riveting performances as Orphelia in Hamlet and Calpurnia in Julius Caesar; Rose Cassiopeia-Thickett is that improbable event, an adventuress of impeccable reputation.
“I am followed, flattered and caressed. I am most certainly the taste of the other sex in London. I have flowers, cards and compliments in profusion and yet, alas, only one devoted lover”
“Only one?” replies Kitty Grid-Iron hanging on her every word,
“A Mr Reuben Gantry, a most singular and devoted beau. I am presented with his calling card at eight in the evening, he dines with me till nine and by ten he is gone”
“Two hours stay each time?”
“Precisely two hours on most days”
“Yes, Thursday past being the exception to that rule”
“Did you find out where he’d gone?”
“By degrees,on that day he went to Turkles, wherein he spent the better part of the morning, before paying a visit to Mr Geraghty”
“Seamus Geraghty’s uncle? He’s the Manager of the Theatre Royal, so I’m told”
Rose Cassiopeia-Thickett, American spy and Pinkerton detective, files her weekly report on the comings and goings of Reuben Gantry to and from the Kane-Thickett household. But it would not do to phrase her report in such clear terms, after all one never knows who may be listening.
“We perform Monsieur Boucicault’s work at the Theatre Royal on Friday week”
“A theatrical production of The Octoroon? Here? In London?”
“It will be a most grand affair my dear, so au courant! T’is rumoured that Queen Victoria will be in attendance and that she in turn will be accompanied by the American Ambassador and one other, an Illinois gentleman, a lawyer, of sorts, an Abe Lincoln?”
Lady Grid-Iron looks singularly pleased, Jedidiah Kane-Thickett’s sudden flight to England had been greeted with much suspicion by Mr Pinkerton. For no more could a secessionist leopard change it’s spots than a Molly Maguire his political convictions! It had come as no surprise to him to learn that this barbarous slaver of men, this errant plantation owning southern rabble rouser, should conspire to blow up the Theatre Royal. What intrigued Mr Pinkerton was why and now Kitty Grid-Iron knew, an execution was a-foot! The attempted murder of a fervent abolitionist, an Illinois gentleman of sorts. That the Empress of India’s life might be in danger was regrettable; but that would be as nothing to the hell on earth that would be unleashed if Kane-Thickett worked his evil will.
“So, the conspiracy thickens! What of Mr Cochrane?”
“He and Mr Breeze watch over Gantry with more care, more solicitude than a mother weaning her child. Why, had I a newborn child I could not wish them in better hands! No matter the schemes my brother has embroiled himself in, we shall surely learn of them a’fore the game is afoot!”
Rose Thickett’s brown eyes glitter fiercely and her heart shaped face, beautiful in repose, takes on a harsh aspect. Her olive coloured complexion makes all who know her, mistake her for a European of Mediterranean descent. But she is American, a daughter of the revolution, a skilled agent provocateur, a native of the wild, uncharted slave-free frontiers of Kansas. Her mother, Lucia Furste, borne a slave, had fallen passionately in love with James William Thickett, plantation owner and beloved elder son of Caleb Thickett. But alas! There’s was an ill-fated match! Once Caleb Thickett found out who his son had married, he drew upon his revolver, flying into a rage so murderous James was lucky to have survived it. Under cover of darkness and via the underground railway, the girl was sent north to Kansas where she would in time give birth to Rose.
“And how does married life find you?” Rose was curious for though she had spied on men for political advantage she had yet to marry a man in order to abduct him.
Lady Grid-Iron rolled her eyes, “I find I manage it tolerable well” she said, “we are together at brunch and if I am lucky dinner. The rest of the time he is the solicitous obsession of Mr Page who would abduct him tomorrow if he believed it would bring an end to his self-enforced servitude”
“Are you certain Lord Grid-Iron had a hand in arming those secessionists?” chuckling mirthlessly, Lady Grid-Iron makes her reply,
“Are you certain that Jedidiah Kane-Thickett aims to blow the Theatre Royal to smithereens, in order to murder one Illinois lawyer?”
Rose Cassiopeia-Thickett smiled but the smile was without humour, “A man who sponsored the massacre of Marais de Cygne because its people were opposed to the barbarous inclinations of the south? Such a man, held in thrall to the depravities of such a barbarous institution as slavery is capable of anything!”
As they glide on towards the Victoriana hot house, Rose thinks she espies a stocky figure ducking behind the trunk of a Magnolia tree. It could be her imagination except that she senses that she has twice espied that same silhouette, once on her way into the gardens and again as they had passed down Victoria Way and into the Arboretum.
“We’re being followed”
“Yes, he’s been with us for some time”
“Have you a pistol?”
“Don’t think there’s a need, for one, it would draw needless attention to us and for another the aimless fool appears to be Mr Fitchett, my butler”
“What? Following us? Is he mad?”
“No, he’s a fool, I think he means to save Tobias from undisclosed scandal by keeping an eye on where I roam”
“But who is running the household while he’s away?”
Kitty Grid-Iron laughed loudly, indeed her laughter was so thunderous that she startled many a perambulating personage and drew many disapproving stares.
“Who do you think? The workers run themselves my dear, they always have!”