Adelia! Darling! Kisses. You’re looking marvellous, as always. I wish I knew your secret! It really is too, too unfair how becoming black is on you. It always makes me look a perfect ghoul.
Where have you been keeping yourself, you wicked thing? You have? How marvellous. I find the seaside terribly invigorating, don’t you? I don’t even mind coming home to find sand in my jewels. It always reminds one of pearls, I think, and to appreciate what one has.
I find it a great consolation that my Jaspeth has never taxed me with semiprecious gems. One sees women sometimes in pearls and amethysts, doesn’t one? The poor brave little dears. I suppose one must pity them, but I simply can’t bring myself to do it. A bare neck is always more attractive than one wreathed in mediocrities. But listen to me, prattling on, when really I’m just desperate to hear about every little thing you’ve been up to since last we met.
If you’ll forgive me for saying so, I’ve been simply entranced by your every last update about life as a widow! You bring such glamour to the occupation. Of other women it might be said that their husbands have died, but only you have made widowhood an art. I can’t go a day, it seems, without hearing of your new severely chic gloves, your contemplative retreats to Villefranche-sur-Mer, resetting the family diamonds in jet—everyone, darling, but simply everyone says that mourning has been the making of you. Such glamour!
Not the Merry Widow, mind, but mysterious, remote, fragile, cool—like an iceberg in a hat. I’m told you’ve become quite the rage in certain fashionable circles. Girls who only last season were hanging out for a husband have taken to dropping veiled hints about poison in port bottles and talking longingly of hunting accidents, and it’s all very much thanks to you. Their voices all take on the same sepulchral tones. It’s quite remarkable.
Remind me, Adelia, dear—I have such enfeebled powers of recollection these days, I’m afraid—is that a lock of Richard’s hair you carry with you in that charming little locket? Ah, Richard, he could so easily afford to give it. How unexpectedly fortunate for you, that widowhood has proved such a social triumph. I’m simply smitten with envy—and, of course, the deepest of grief. Tell me, which of his ships was he piloting when they were struck by that terrible storm? Was it the Tidefall? Or the Ridotto?
I thought so! Thank you, you’ve laid my worries perfectly to rest, as you always do. A stronghold in a tempest, Adelia, is what I’ve always called you. Oh, dear, I hope that wasn’t in poor taste. I speak of metaphorical tempests only, darling. Yet I fear I may be losing my sanity. For what do you think I saw when I was in Sanremo last Thursday but the Ridotto, anchored at port, complete with crew and a captain who could have been Richard’s twin?
I said very much the same thing, Adelia! Which is why, of course, I steeled myself and marched down and asked him outright, for otherwise I wouldn’t know a moment’s peace for the rest of the tour. Well, he denied it at first, but I felt sure that you’d want to know, because if it was Richard he must have played an awfully cruel trick on you, and whatever else might be said about me, I am a veritable lioness when it comes to my friends, especially une amie intime. So of course I insisted on seeing the ship’s manifest, and, at that point, all came out.
I was surprised, I must tell you! I told him off in no uncertain terms, you know, not only for being a sneak but also for docking in Sanremo without paying me a call. Everyone who passes through Sanremo pays me a call; I’m as much an institution there as the casino—and you won’t believe what he said to me, Deels, dear, but he claimed that you knew exactly where he was the whole time. Now isn’t that the strangest thing? Not only that Richard should be alive, I mean, but that you should have known about it all this time you’ve been carrying on and dyeing all of your hats black.
In fact—and do forgive me, darling, if this bluntness pains you—but if we are being strictly correct, none of your several former husbands are deceased, are they? Neither Richard, nor Thormund, nor Charles? All quite well, in fact, and rather prosaically alive? Which I’m afraid means that you’re not a widow of any kind, and none of the men you’ve married have ever disappeared under fascinating and mysterious circumstances, and you yourself are nothing more than a divorcée like the rest of us! It’s almost a shame, really, although of course I’m very pleased that Richard didn’t drown after all, because I’m so fond of you. But I fear you’ll look very washed-out in this season’s colors, now that we all know you’re not entitled to wear black. Very washed-out indeed.
Oh, dear—I certainly didn’t mean to give offense. She left rather quickly, didn’t she? I certainly hope this doesn’t ruin her socially.