Read An Inconvenient Wife Online

Authors: Megan Chance

An Inconvenient Wife

BOOK: An Inconvenient Wife

Copyright © 2004 by Megan Chance

All rights reserved.

Warner Books

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017

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ISBN: 978-0-446-56015-3

First eBook Edition: April 2009

Also by Megan Chance:


For Maggie and Cleo


Copyright Page




Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18


Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24


Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28


Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35


As always, I must thank Kristin Hannah for her invaluable insight, Jamie Raab and Frances Jalet-Miller for their care and
dedication in pointing the way, Marcy Posner for her unwavering support, Elizabeth DeMatteo, Melinda McRae, Jena McPherson,
Liz Osborne, and Sharon Thomas for fifteen years of Thursday nights, and of course, my husband, Kany, for his belief, love,
and insight.

“Love” is an elastic concept that stretches from heaven to hell and combines in itself good and evil, high and low.

Two Essays on Analytical Psychology
“The Anxious Young Woman and the Retired Businessman”

Survival of the fittest does not always mean survival of the best . . . it means only the survival of that which is best suited
to the circumstances, good or bad, in which it is placed—the survival of a savage in a savage social medium, of a rogue among
rogues, of a parasite where a parasite alone can live.

Body and Will


New York City

Autumn 1884

n asylum!” William said. “Is there nothing else we can try? Nothing at all?”

My husband balanced on the edge of his chair. The electric light shone on his high forehead, glinting in the gray threading
through his dark hair. He was only thirty-five. The aging was due to his profession, he said. Brokering was a hard business.
But I knew it was not that at all. I knew it was because of me.

“You don’t want surgery.” Dr. Little adjusted his round spectacles. The myriad certificates that dotted the brown toile wallpaper
framed him nicely, as if deliberately placed to give weight to his earnestness.

“But if you think it’s best . . .” I said.

Dr. Little turned his mild, thoughtful gaze to me. “An ovariotomy is not always successful. Your husband feels the risk is
too great.”

“You could die, Lucy,” William said.

“But there’s the chance it would work.”

Dr. Little nodded. “Yes, of course. We’ve made great gains with surgery of this type, but I would not be so anxious to try
it—not when there is another option. Beechwood Grove is an excellent institution, Mrs. Carelton. We’ve had good results with
hysterics and neurasthenics. A few months of enforced rest may be effective.”

“A few months,” William said in a low voice. “You’ve said six months, at least. It would encompass the entire season. What
would we tell people?”

Dr. Little shrugged. “Perhaps you could suggest that Mrs. Carelton has taken an extended tour abroad.”

“Lucy has always hated Europe,” my husband said.

“Something else, then,” Dr. Little said impatiently.

William exhaled. “I don’t know. An asylum . . .”

asylum,” Dr. Little corrected. “You must believe me when I say this is nothing like the horror houses you’ve heard about,
Mr. Carelton. At Beechwood Grove, all of our patients are from excellent families. We make it as homelike as possible. Mrs.
Carelton would even be permitted to have many of her own things.”

I looked down, unable to meet the doctor’s gaze. “Perhaps it’s best, William. . . .”

“No.” He said it so violently that I looked up in surprise. “No. I refuse to believe this is the only way. An asylum, for
God’s sake. That’s a place for the insane.”

“Mr. Carelton, you came to me for advice; you said you had lost hope. I’m saying there is hope to be found, but it requires
a great sacrifice on your part—”

“What you’re saying is that Lucy belongs with madmen and criminals,” William said coldly.

“There are no criminals in Beechwood Grove.”

“Only madmen.”

We do not accept men there.”

“Madwomen, then. You would put my wife with them?”

Dr. Little looked at William, and I read the meaning in his glance.
Your wife
a madwoman. It’s time to acknowledge it. It’s time to send her away. . . .

I could not bear to look. I felt the start of tears, and I dug my nails into my palm.

William got to his feet and pulled me to mine. “I appreciate your time and your advice, Doctor, but the season is just starting—”

“You may regret this,” Dr. Little said. “Mrs. Carelton has been unable to meet the demands of society before.”

“This year will be different. We still hope that there will be a child.”

Dr. Little pressed his hands together. “A child. Mr. Carelton, I’m quite sure Mrs. Carelton could not care for a child. Not
in her present state.”

“Perhaps a child is just what she needs,” William said hopefully.

“A good long rest is what she needs. An asylum, with round-the-clock care, is what she needs. I’m sorry, Mr. Carelton, but
I see no other option for your wife.”

William hesitated, and then he nodded. “Again, we thank you, Doctor. Now we must wish you good day.” His fingers squeezed
my arm; together we turned and left the doctor’s office. When we were outside, into the growing chill that sharpened the air,
standing amid the noise of carriages rattling down the street, the constant movement of the city, he turned to me. “Well.”
He sighed. “I’m sorry to have put you through that, darling.”

I was cold; I could not feel my fingers at all. “He could be right, William.”

“You would prefer to be locked away?”

“No, of course not, but—”

“There must be something else. Another way. Something we’ve overlooked.”

“Dr. Little says there’s nothing.”

William ignored me. “Perhaps we should not have returned to the city so quickly. Perhaps . . . a short trip to the country?
What do you think, Lucy? Do you think they would miss us?”

I did not say what I thought—that our friends would be relieved. “No,” I said, and though I tried to smile, I could not manage
it. “A trip to the country would be fine.”


New York City

Early January, 1885

Chapter 1

he supper had gone splendidly. The gaslight glittered on the gold-rimmed plates and the gold of the palm-adorned epergne that
held oranges and tiny kumquats and blushing yellow tea roses and greenery spilling over in artful disarray. The conversation
was sparkling; everyone kept saying so. I wondered if perhaps their words were only talismans against the dark—how could an
evening be boring when all kept remarking that it was not? Or was it merely that I was the only one who noticed the way the
gaslight wavered restlessly across the china, as if it could not wait to be gone, as if other voices beckoned it?

“It seems your visit to the country has done you both good,” Millicent Wallace said. She and William traded a quick look,
and I felt myself grow hot as she reached idly for a pear from the tray.

I spoke quickly. “Yes.”

“The country is so restful,” William said.

Thomas Sykes nodded. “For a time. I must admit that after a few days, I find rest anything but restful.”

William smiled. “The market waits for no man.”

“It was good of William to take time away,” I said quietly. “Especially for such a long while.”

“Thomas would have sent me on alone,” Elizabeth Sykes said with a laugh.

Thomas said, “I’m surprised you could make such a sacrifice of time yourself, William, with things still so unstable after
last year.”

“William would not hear of me going alone,” I said.

“How good is your concern, William,” Millie said. “How lucky you are, Lucy.”

William shoved back his chair suddenly. It was unlike him, graceless and loud. When I glanced up in surprise, I saw his pointed
gaze, and I realized my hand had gone to my temple. With effort, I forced it to my lap.

There was an uncomfortable silence, a sense of waiting, and I struggled to find words to fill it.

William said gently, pointedly, “Ladies, I’m sure you’d prefer the parlor to our cigars.”

They had been waiting for me to signal the end of supper. I was horrified at my lapse, and humiliated. I had forgotten, yet
it was such a simple thing, something I’d done so many times before.

I stumbled to my feet, jarring the table, sending a kumquat rolling from the centerpiece. “Yes, of course. Shall we have tea?”

Millicent and Elizabeth followed me to the parlor, with its pale blue walls and heavy gold drapes, to the little gilded table
and the elaborate crystal decanters upon it—wedding gifts from a faraway cousin. I pretended there was nothing wrong, nothing
odd about pouring sherry into a glass—only a very small glass, only a small amount of sherry—but I was nervous, and I poured
too much. It spilled onto the Aubusson carpet, and I blotted the stain into a woven rose with the toe of my shoe, pretending
not to see it.

I turned and smiled and held up my glass. “Tea? Or something stronger?”

Millicent stood by the hearth, her skirts brushing the stiff brass feathers of the peacock fire screen, her expression impassive.
“Tea, I think.”

Elizabeth shook her blond head. Her plain pearl eardrops shivered against her jaw. “No thank you. I doubt I could manage another
sip.” Then, as I went to ring the bell for Moira, Elizabeth said, “William is doing so well. Thomas speaks of him often.”

“William will be glad to hear that,” I said.

They both looked at me as if I’d said something strange, and I took a sip of the sherry and wished the warmth of it would
speed through my veins, though I could hardly taste it.

“Are you not well, Lucy?” Millie asked, narrowing her dark eyes as if studying some particularly intricate tapestry stitch.
“You seem pale.”

“I’m just a little . . . tired.” The sherry was not helping, and the room seemed at once too small and overwhelming—so many
things: the faint scents of gas and flowers and the lamb we’d had for supper, mirrors and gilt and those heavy, massive curtains
closing out the light and the air. . . .

You must not. William will be so angry,
I reminded myself.

I got up from the settee, meaning to go to the curtains and pull them aside, but I caught my toe on the delicate table, rocking
the Chinese urn and the pretty jeweled birdcage and the coils of the gas line that fed the Tiffany lamp.

Millicent rushed to my side as if I’d slipped hard on ice, and she took my arm. Her hands were warm through the figured velvet
of my sleeve, and I realized how cold I was—but then I was often too cold or too warm now. William said I was like a hothouse

“It was nothing,” I said, pushing her away again. “These new shoes . . .”

She glanced down at them but said nothing, only gave me a look that shamed me. I forgot about the window and went to the bell.

“Where is the tea?” I asked. I twisted the bell more viciously than I meant. “Where is Moira? She should have been here by
now—” I twisted the bell again.

“Lucy, I think I won’t have any tea after all,” Millicent said.

she?” I twisted the knob once more. When Moira didn’t appear, I went to the doorway and leaned into the hall. “Moira!” My
voice disappeared into the heaviness of the dark flocked wallpaper, and the deep tapestried curtains that hid the servants’
stairs at the end of the hall, and the patterned carpets unworn by the footsteps of children, because only one child had ever
played in this house, only me. “Moira!” I raised my voice, and this time it seemed shrill. “Moira! Where are you? Can’t you
hear the bell! Moira!” I was angry, and I felt that anger slipping beyond me, and though a part of me urged caution and tried
to stop, another part just kept screaming, “Moira! Moira!” even though Millicent and Elizabeth were calling to me from the
parlor. I heard the men come from the dining room, and William—“Darling, what’s the noise?”—in that calm and soothing voice
I hated, as if he were approaching a dangerous animal.

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