“I’m descended from Alexander Cooke, who worked his way up from an indentured stagehand to an actor in the King’s Men, alongside old Bill Shakespeare.”

“Who?”

“Our Cervantes,” said Cooke. “I imagine the plays and poems haven’t been translated yet, but they’re terrific at cheering you up if you’re in a bad mood or darkening your mood if you’re too cheerful, which is a very neat trick common to great scriblarians.”

“If he’s anything like Cervantes, your ancestor was a lucky man…even if he had to laugh through his tears,” said María Nereida.

“He was lucky,” Cooke said. “His son–also Alexander–was able to turn his inheritance into a plantation in the New World. He was also able to use it to get away from his wife in London.”

“I sense that your mother was not appreciative of that,” María Nereida said.

“I think she was less appreciative of that than the fact that she wasn’t my mother,” laughed Cooke. “My father took his son with him to the New World and then met my mother when he bought her in Jamaica. It was quite the scandal.”

“Why is that?”

“You have to understand that we Englishmen have a different and much less enlightened view of such things than you Spaniards,” Cooke said. “As the child of my father’s property, I was property myself. He was a good man, more or less. He freed Mother and I even as he kept her kinsmen in bondage, and he brought my half-brother and I up as equals and educated us in the running of his plantation.”

“But things surely did not stay happy, or else you would be there and not here.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” Cooke laughed ruefully. “When Father died, Anthony wasn’t content with a half-share of the plantation. He took the whole thing, and added to his profit by selling me.”

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