James was having words with the funeral director once more when Rose arrived. Worried over her state of mind, James had sent a car for her. When he'd seen her home she had seemed so fragile and delicate, James began to realize that the woman for all her outward bravado was in poor health herself. He looked at the door as it was opened by the uniformed man he'd sent to escort her. Not one of the Darlings could have found fault with her, for she was statelier than a queen could have been.
"Good morning Mrs. Darling," he moved smoothly past the protesting director and extended his hands to her.
"Captain Rodgers," she whispered, "You really don't have to make such a fuss over me…"
"Nonsense," he said gently, "Phillip would expect me to see to your needs." He tucked her hand into the crook of his arm, "Are you ready for this?"
She looked down the hall to the little chapel where her husband's body lay in state. "Is one ever ready?" she mused softly.
"Perhaps not," he agreed, "However…"
Rose Darling nodded and took the first step, "Phillip would expect me to behave with decorum; and not to sit about moaning about how unfair life has been." Her fingers tightened on the arm they were tucked into, "I did try to be a proper Darling wife you know…"
"A proper Darling wife," James questioned as he walked at her side down the long hall. "Is there such a thing?"
"The English Darlings think so," Rose sighed, "And Rose Higgins didn't fit their bill." There was no disguising the bitterness or the pain that the slight had caused. "John's father was more or less the head of the family in England, that is after old Wendy of course… and he didn't approve of me."
"Old Wendy," James said sensitively, "Was still very much alive when you and Phillip wed."
"Yes, she was," Rose hesitated before they entered the chapel. "John's father tried to poison her against me," she whispered. "It was a dreadful mistake for him one that he never quite recovered from. You see Captain Rodgers, my husband was the son of Wendy's first born son… and she was much more accommodating to our… choices."
"We didn't employ a nanny," Rose confessed with a bit of embarrassment, "It's not that we couldn't afford one… when Phillip was still designing we were quite well set. It was a matter of Phillip and I wanted to be hands on parents." Her eyes were searching his, seeking to see if he understood, "John's father was Margret's son… he didn't approve… he said we were breaking with proper traditions."
"Did he," James murmured softly.
Rose nodded, "I doubt very much that Miss Wendy knew half of what John Sr. was up to." They moved into the chapel, "It was he who locked all of Phillip's inheritance up in trusts, making it impossible for him to touch it… John wanted Phillip to come begging…"
James looked at the serene face of the man in the coffin, "Which he never did."
"No," Rose said with pride, "He never did." She moved toward the coffin, placed her hand to the sleeve of her husband and boasted, "Even when they tried to make paupers of us… when they refused to release the funds that had been earmarked for Wendy's college… he wouldn't bend or break to their will. He stood on his own two feet, and demanded our daughter do the same."
"Phillip Darling was a unique man among his clan," James said reflectively.
"He was indeed," Rose mused, "The Darlings had this habit of marrying cousins with the same name… His mother was a Darling from the French branch… I'm the first non Darling you know. And John Sr. had a fit when Phillip turned down the arranged marriage with Cousin Phyllis Darling to marry a girl who was not even of English descent." She chuckled.
"English snobbery," James shrugged, "If if there were no need." He guided her to a large wing back chair, "Rose do you have family?"
"No," she said quietly, "Not really… I mean I've cousins, but they live a great distance from here now… I'm the only one who stayed local."
"No brothers or sister?" James asked taking a seat beside her. "You… you can't stay alone… you're not well…"
"I am well aware of my condition Captain Rodgers," her voice grew edgy.
"My dear," he soothed, "I mean no offence."
"None taken," she murmured, "I'm just being a bit…" she shook her head having no words to express her feelings. "Defensive… it's a very old, very bad habit."
James patted her hand, "Defensive is something I am very familiar with."
"I don't want to ask the Darlings for anything, not now, not ever."
"Rose," he soothed, "There must be someone in your own family…"
Shaking her head she sighed, "No James," she was firm. "Outside of my daughter… there is no one."
Guilt racked the pirate he was surprised to find. He had always needed revenge, and young Wendy had seemed the best candidate. Now listening to her mother lament her missing child he wished he'd never heard of Wendy Mora Angelia Darling, either one of them. "I'm very sorry," he said in condolence.
"I've missed my daughter for a long time," the woman confessed looking toward her husband's coffin. "More now than ever, but what is, is." She shrugged, "It may be prideful, nevertheless I refuse to call upon the Darlings, not now… not ever." Her lips twisted slightly, "I'd accept assistance and support from Captain Hook before I'd ask one of them for so much as a glass of water."
The irony was not lost on James who smiled back, "Rose Darling you're a wicked woman."
She sighed before she looked back to the coffin, "I'll take that as a complement."
James leaned back, "No other mourners," he observed.
"No flowers or flowery speeches?"
"Not a one," she murmured. "Only you to keep me company." She looked at him as she too leaned back into the large chair. "I fear I must lean on you."
Extending a hand her way he said quietly, "Phillip Darling was an extraordinary man, and his wife is his equal. I am honored to be of service." His hand closed gently over hers, "I vow to you Rose Darling, I will do all in my power to see to it that this funeral is just as you and he wished."
"You've already done that," Rose commended. "Could I request yet one more service of you?"
"Name it, if it's in my power…."
"There are some papers… legal documents that are beyond me," she whispered. "Things I don't fathom things that were effortless for Phillip even when he was incapacitated. Could I ask you to look them over for me?"
"When we leave here this evening I shall have my car deliver you to your home, I shall escort you and take a brief look… if they are pressing I shall address them this evening." He vowed.
"Thank you Captain Rodgers."
James read over page after page, "Rose, this is very serious." He looked at the widow who was preparing them a cup of tea. "Phillip bartered the house against his medical bills."
"I was afraid he'd done something like that," she murmured sadly.
"There's a small fortune in debt here," James lifted one set of paper, "Did you know he'd hired a detective?"
Rose took a seat at the cozy little kitchen table, "He may have said so," she sighed. "We were both so upset, and neither of us really trusted the people John Darling had hired… Phillip suspected that some of the English Darlings didn't really wish for Wendy to be found." She stirred her tea, "How bad is it?"
"Most of the property is gone, there's no way to offset it with the trust that the Darlings are sitting on. I'm afraid you're going to lose the house." James found no way to soften the blow. "Your furnishings, clothes and personal items… dishes, crystal.. art… are still yours but…."
"I most likely will have to sell them off," she fought the tears.
"No," James put his hand out to her, "No Rose, I won't let that happen… I've some very good lawyers, here and in England… I may not be able to save this house, but I'll be damned if they make Phillip's widow take refuge in a poor house."
"We don't have them here," she murmured.
"I've a cottage on my estate; I should like to offer it to you."
"No James, I couldn't…"
"Rose you're not well," he was firm, "You looked after Phillip without much help… now let me look after you." His hand held hers securely, "I shall have a housekeeper look after you…"
"James Rodgers you're far too busy a man…" she protested.
"Yes, I'm a busy man… but I'm going to take the time to take care of you. Something those blasted Darlings should have done." He vowed as he released her hand to sip his tea. "I'm a very rich man, and what it will cost to clean up this mess that Phillip got himself into will not even make a dent in my fortune. The first thing I'm going to do is get your money refunded from this bogus detective."
"Phillip had held out such high hopes until about two years ago," Rose wept, "Our little girl…" her hand cradled her face, "Oh my little girl, where are you?"
Unaccustomed to having to comfort a woman, James found his training in his early years as a gentleman of little use. Knowing his part in the woman's misery didn't make it any easier for him. James placed his cup of tea down, put one hand on Rose's shoulder, "I'll find her, if I have to move heaven and earth, I'll find her." Rose turned, seeking the strength and reassurance she had so often found in Phillip. Her sobs deepened while James sought to bolster her.
James was quiet on the way back to the rented house. Smee was waiting for him, James knew that whatever he was about to be told was not going to make him happy. He held up a hand, and Smee remained silent. Walking past his manservant he entered the house, heading toward the parlor. Once he'd taken a seat he placed his hand over his eyes, "What is it?"
"It's not good," Smee said quietly.
"The expression on your fact told me that," James grumbled. "Out with it man."
"Mr. Phillip had no way of knowing, but his cousin John, the present John Darling's father… he bought up the mortgage and the other debts. It's the Darlings foreclosing on the widow." Smee presented his Captain with the hard copies of what he'd gathered.
"Does John Darling know this?" questioned James.
"I have very strong doubts that any of the young men do," Smee continued, "None of them went into the baking business like their father. A point of contention in the family."
Reading over the facts James began to grumble to himself, "And they think I'm vindictive."
"Mr. John Sr. did everything he could think of to ruin Mr. Phillip," Smee pointed out, "You never tried to ruin one of them financially…" He handed more papers to his employer, "He even made it impossible for Mr. Phillip to work in England unless it was with his expressed permission. That's why there are no buildings by Phillip Darling in London." The old sea dog shook his head, "It's a pity too; that man had talent."
"All this because old John didn't approve of his cousin's wife?"
"Oh no, that's just the tip of the iceberg, Captain," Smee was holding a paper with the Darling Family Tree, "You see miss Jane was put out with the second Mr. Phillip for moving to the colonies with his bride. She expected him to take over the investments that her brother had managed for the family. Them Darlings make more investment then you can imagine! It only came to a head when Mr. Phillip refused to marry his cousin in favor of Miss Rose Higgins. Mr. John Sr. went ballistic. And all this was done under Miss Wendy's nose without her ever knowing because Mr. Phillip wasn't a whiner."
"I have more respect for him by the moment," James admitted. "I can see why I was never able to really break my Darling girl. She comes from very strong stock."
"Mr. John tired to arrange a marriage contract," Smee said quietly, "Mr. Phillip wouldn't hear of it."
"When?" James looked up from the papers with a grim expression on his face, "When did John try to force this foolish idea?"
"The year that them brats left little Wendy alone in Kensington," Smee answered.
James stood up to pace, "Did the boy John know what his father was planning?"
"I have no way of knowing…." Smee sighed.
James' mind went back to that day, that lovely fall day that he'd first became acquainted with the child named in her great granny's honor. She was so much smaller than the other Darling children, and more timid surrounded by others who were all quite at home in the large park. He had watched them at play, had seen how they left the little girl out of many of their games. It had never occurred to him that the shunning was anything more than spoiled children acting out. Now he wondered, he wondered if John who was nearly eleven had realized that his father was trying to arrange his life and future. Try as he might he couldn't remember John's deeds as clearly as he should. Most of his memory of that day was of Wendy.
"She was so small," he whispered, "And so totally crestfallen that her cousins could have been so cruel… I thought it was just them playing a trick on the little outsider…." He shook his head, "I thought it was only that John was nearly eleven, and didn't like having to watch a five year old American child."
"Leaving her in the park was a nasty little trick," Smee agreed.
"She told me that Old Wendy was so upset by the little prank that she refused to speak to John for the rest of the girl's visit." James paced. "Old Wendy would never have approved a match between them, not with that incident so fresh in her mind."
"She didn't." Smee looked at the man pacing with wide eyes, "How did you know?"
"Instinct," James paced. "The old girl must have pitched a fit to John Sr."
"That Miss Bridges, the nurse was a source of information," Smee said quietly. "Miss Wendy did pitch a fit; she told John that he was as guilty of the mischief directed at the little girl as his son was."
James tapped his chin as he paced, "I taunted her, made her remember that incident. She had buried her wounded pride and I picked at the old scab until she bled." His tone was retrospective, "That poor child," he murmured, "I credited her with being intelligent, yet not once had I thought of how that incident must have colored her feelings toward the English branch of the family…" he slowed the pace, "The time she appeared as her Granny at the memorial… John was so cruel to her…so cold."
"No, Senior;" James tapping increased, "He was downright nasty to the little girl, and there was no Wendy to scold him."
"She'd have done more than scold had she known what he did," Smee suggested; "Being in the banking and investment business that man was more pirate than you!"
James winced, "Hard to fathom."
"It was right after Mr. Phillip took his wife and child back to the states that Mr. John senior started his campaign to put him on the outs."
How it must have galled him when young John turned around and began to be kind to the girl, James mused. Or had it been a calculation on the part of the elder John, an effort to keep the Darling money within his control? The girl had gotten very little credit when she recorded with the band… and he knew she'd gotten no monetary gain. Had that been the last stroke of John Darling Sr.? James wondered.
"Something I missed," Smee inquired.
"No, something I missed," James informed his servant, "I should have watched them more carefully," he grumbled, "I had no idea that some of them were so…jealous."
"Mr. Phillip showed them all up," Smee declared, "He made it without depending on the Darling fortune."
"And his daughter was an unspoiled genuinely sweet…" James closed his eyes, "I'm wondering if she'd have been different had John not locked the trusts up."
"Mr. Phillip didn't depend on the trusts," Smee answered with a shrug. "I think the girl would have been just as she was… she wasn't raised with the rest of em." He went on thoughtfully, "She wasn't raised in a nursery, or followed about by governesses, and she didn't go to private schools like the rest. Mr. Phillip and his wife believed in being more… real."
"The Darling name was a foot in the door, but his talent is what kept him at the top of his game, even if he didn't flaunt it." James grew weary, "Smee, call the estate, tell them to get the little cottage ready. Hire a good housekeeper, one with some nursing skills. We'll be having a guest."
"The widow," Smee asked.
"Yes," James sighed.
"That's going to mean you're not able to…"
"I know," James mused, "But how far can one go in Never Land… it's not that big." He shook his head, "I cannot just up and leave Rose, she's not well… and she won't turn to the Darlings for so much as a farthing."
"Right proud she is," Smee agreed.
"She said she'd accept help from Captain Hook before she'd turn to the Darling Clan," James looked sheepishly at his servant. "It will take a few days to put her affairs in order, but she's already lost the house thanks to the Darlings. I want you to hire a moving service, have her house packed up and moved to the estate. Rose deserves to live in comfort now, and I can afford to take care of her."
"You want us to transport her belongings by Rodgers Freight LTD?"
"Yes," James answered wearily. "I want her things in the cottage before she arrives, I'll be bringing her on my private jet."
"Very good," Smee was making notes.
"I'm off to bed; it's going to be a long day tomorrow, do have the movers come to her house the day after the funeral." He instructed, "I'll inform her in the morning of our plans."
"And you think she'll go along?"
James nodded slowly, "She has little choice," he sighed. "Nor does she have much strength to fight… she's not well Smee… soon as I get her settled into the estate I intend to fetch her wondering daughter home to her."
Rose stared at James, "I thought you were just being… kind."
"No," James said firmly, "I'm paying a debt as it were."
"What debt did you owe Phillip," she questioned lightly.
"One that was between he and I," James answered guardedly.
Rose touched the coffin that was about to be closed, "How soon would I be evicted," she asked.
"Within a few weeks," James assured her.
"There's no chance to hold them off?"
"No," he said knowing she was unaware as to who held the deed.
"I could sell …"
"Even if you sold all your jewelry, your paintings, your china and furnishings… it wouldn't be enough." James placed a protective arm over her shoulder, "And if I'm any judge of character, that smarmy little snake of a director is going to alert the press as to the burial today." His tone was firm, "In a few hours the Darling Clan would descend upon you, overwhelm you, and force you to their will…"
"Oh, I so don't want that…"
"Let me protect you Rose, let me do what I promised Phillip…" he requested gently. "Let me get you away from all this before the media turns this into a circus."
"But to abandon Phillip…." She countered.
"Phillip is gone," he reasoned, "What would he do if he were here?"
Rose closed her eyes, "He'd take up your suggestion," she agreed. "Alright Captain Rodgers, we'll go with your plan…." She motioned to the funeral director who was wearing a seedy little grin. "Here comes trouble."
"If you'd direct your men to take their places we can begin our journey to the cemetery." He said with a flourish.
James nodded to his uniformed men, "Take your places." He then handed a black veil, a thickly opaque one, to the widow.
Rose covered her hat with the circle of fabric, "Thank you Captain Rodgers," she murmured.
"You may thank me when we are safely on our way," he whispered back taking her arm to escort her.
The walked behind the coffin as it was carried by the six guards out to the hearse. The director was upset that the widow refused to sit in the limo that he was providing. The six uniformed guards moved into that vehicle as they had been instructed. Rose was seated in the limo behind it with James. As the cars pulled away from the curb outside the funeral home the driver kept a small distance between him and the limo in front of them.
"Now boss?" he asked.
"No, wait until we are on the highway, then separate…" James said softly. "Take the exit ramp to the 294 and head for the air field." Moments later he felt the widow's head move to his shoulder, he listened as she wept silently to herself. James wished there had been some other way, wished that he could have at least brought her to the graveside for a final farewell. He wished there had been a better way to handle this, but he feared for Rose's safety as well as her health. This was better he told himself as he allowed her to weep.
There was a section of the air felid devoted to private jets, it was here that the limo headed. Once they arrived at the tarmac Smee escorted the lady to the jet while James gave his final orders to the ground crew. He then joined the widow, and took his seat.
"Don't I need a passport," Rose fretted.
"I took the liberty of having one of my employees gather your important papers," he pointed to a valise beside the widow. "Your passport is in there along with your other legal papers."
Softly she smiled at him, "How thoughtful," she murmured.
"You just rest easy one Rose," he encouraged. "By this time tomorrow you'll be having tea in a hotel suite in London."
Her smile faded, "There's no way the family can trace me is there?"
"None," he assured her, his hand went to hers, "You're safe from the media, and you're safe from the Darlings and their lawyers."
"Captain Rodgers, I'll never be able to repay you…"
"Nonsense," he sighed, "I'm paying back a debt I owe Phillip." He looked over at Smee, "Will here; will see to all your needs during the journey."
Smee bowed graciously, "A pleasure."