It made a ripping good plot for the murder books. South of France river delta, missing naturalist, mystery spider, vast fortunes in play. The enchanting, rifle-toting Amalie at my side. A ripping good plot indeed, if that spider and the next Industrial Revolution she might’ve spawned weren’t clearly products of Amalie’s fevered imagination. My dear rancher’s daughter might as well have claimed Sputnik rapped at her boudoir window. Giant Nephilidae, the bird-dining variety, were confined by climate to the tropics. Still, there were worse spring afternoons than riding en plein air through the Camargue marsh preserves alone with a broad-shouldered mademoiselle.
Amalie stopped her horse and assisted in stopping mine. She pointed toward a distant brake of salt cedars alongside a canal. “We last saw him there.”
She meant Ballentine, off on another of his walkabouts. I stroked my trademark stubble, the preeminent stubble in arachnology by any independent measure. At a week’s worth, it no doubt lent me a touch of ruggedness. The move also flashed my chronograph—a thousand quid on New Bond Street, should Amalie ask—which rounded out the Nick Torthwaite-in-the-field look. Stubble, chronograph, safari vest and poplin slacks, I cut a dashing if stocky figure, the famed scientist after his quarry.
“Well, then,” I said. “Forge on.”
“It is bad, to be lost in the flats.”