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Authors: Judith Ivory

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Black Silk

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Judith Ivory
Black Silk

For Barbara, the book’s first editor
and for Carrie, the book’s last.
Your support from the start
has made the most wonderful difference.
I thank you both from the bottom of my heart.

Contents

Chapter 1

In the billiard room, the mantel clock ticked softly, its…

Chapter 2

Three weeks later, the matter of the lunatic with the…

Chapter 3

Submit Wharton Channing-Downes. The name sang like a musical crescendo…

Chapter 4

Submit, Submit, Submit. All the rest of that morning and…

Chapter 5

Across London, Graham sat at a dinner party. All around…

Chapter 6

Submit found the earl of Netham to be almost a…

Chapter 7

Submit awoke to the sound of laughter. Somewhere beyond her…

Chapter 8

Submit found Graham Wessit to be paradoxically elusive in this…

Chapter 9

Graham was more wary of Submit Channing-Downes after that. Though…

Chapter 10

I am so sorry to have put upon you so…

Chapter 11

A few nights later, Graham and some of his friends…

Chapter 12

Submit carried her coat out to the landing and laid…

Chapter 13

Graham’s ride outside the city that next day was not…

Chapter 14

In the open field, her own dress was the only…

Chapter 15

The innkeeper brought slices of cold jellied chicken and a…

Chapter 16

Graham had arrived home from Morrow Fields and had an…

Chapter 17

The facts seemed fairly obvious to Graham. A distraught, none-too-sane…

Chapter 18

Graham would tell the whole story to Submit that summer:…

Chapter 19

Grief, Submit discovered, could be a very selfish thing. Though…

Chapter 20

Graham stood by the window, looking out on a dozen…

Chapter 21

The first two or three times, Submit managed to dispatch…

Chapter 22

Evil villain that he was, the rakehell pursued the young…

Chapter 23

This time, Graham was told accurately where she would be…

Chapter 24

Correspondence plagued the month of August, it seemed. Submit received…

Chapter 25

Getting Submit to Netham turned out to be not nearly…

Chapter 26

There was a rapping at Submit’s door. From the hall,…

Chapter 27

Submit had decided to “write him.” That was the way…

Chapter 28

There were days at the inn when Submit felt herself…

Chapter 29

That day at the inn, Gerald Schild stayed only slightly…

Chapter 30

He pushed Peg against the desk, bending her backward over…

Chapter 31

Graham heard an unfamiliar noise. Chk, chk, chk. He jumped…

Chapter 32

He came forward, buttoning his shirt. The sight of him…

Chapter 33

Graham’s first coherent words to her, “Are you all right?”…

Chapter 34

Rosalyn asked Submit to stay with her, and so she…

Chapter 35

“William.” Submit set her pen down as she rose from…

Chapter 36

The trees were always the first thing one saw. The…

I
Pandetti’s Box

Being heretofore drown’d in security,
You know not how to live, nor how to die;
But I have an object that shall startle you, And make you know whither you are going.

JOHN WEBSTER

The Devil’s Law-case

V, iv, 109–112

Chapter 1

The truth is frequently ambiguous, but it is still more dependable than a lie.

HENRY CHANNING-DOWNES
Eleventh marquess of Motmarche
Aphorisms,
number 23

A
PRIL
1858

In the billiard room, the mantel clock ticked softly, its sound muted by the room’s furnishings. Thick oriental carpeting. Dark paneled walls. The walls were hung with pastoral paintings, which were not terribly good but were terribly English—dogs, horses, the hunt. On one wall, heavy damask drapes all but obliterated tall, narrow windows, the only view to the outside. These draperies were a deep emerald green, fringed and tied and tasseled in gold. The fringe and tassels, repeated at the pockets of a billiard table, were the only froufrou in the room. This room was one of several that made up Freyer’s, a gentlemen’s club on St. James’s Street, and it was intrinsically what the newer clubs could only pretend to be—old, masculine, unrepentantly upper-class.

The gold in the fringe and tassels was the worn, dignified gold that spoke of generations. Just as the movements and mannerisms of the men in the room, their very diction, said each was the scion of a long line of progenitors, all of whom had walked these soft carpets, or carpets just like them, since the beginning of time—or at least since the beginning of taste and decorum. It was the reassuring, upper-class English myth: tradition. The illusion of wealth perpetual,
past and present, as a way of warding off worries for the future. Nonetheless, Freyer’s
was
the oldest and probably poshest of such gentlemen’s clubs in London, and Graham Wessit belonged in this club, at this billiard table, bending over it.

He stood well balanced on one foot, the other in the air. He was stretched out across the green felt, his belly flat, almost horizontal against the table’s mahogany rail. His arm was extended more than halfway up the playing surface, in a long white shirtsleeve. (He’d taken his coat off two shots ago when the balls had broken badly and the betting had doubled to above eighty pounds.) His concentration ran down the length of his arm, down the line of his cue stick, past the loose crevice he’d made of his fingertips, to the pristine white of one small ivory ball. This awkward little object, the cue ball, sat smugly at a near-unreachable angle over a clutter of irrelevant, multicolored balls. But it also sat in direct line with a red ball Graham intended to bank and sink.

He was sliding the cue stick back and forth a fraction to feel the balance, taking a last measure against a mother-of-pearl inlay—a sight—on the table edge, when the clock began to strike.

Noon. Graham cocked his elbow. A far-off flurry of commotion distracted him for a moment. Out front in the reading room, someone had come in. Someone who was perhaps not a member. The butler handled such things. His voice could be heard. “Now see here—”

The mantel clock struck the third beat and then the fourth in a regular, dependable rhythm. Graham refocused and hit. The tip of his cue made a neat tap against the cue ball. The cue ball, in turn, hit the red, sending it against the cushion. This bright ball cut through a narrow strait, just missing three other balls, and began down the length of the table toward the pocket at Graham’s hip. The clock was striking seven, eight, nine—

And the disturbance in the outer room grew loud enough to make Graham look up, frowning. Several voices were added to the butler’s, among them a woman’s. “I know ’e’s bloody well ’ere!”

This incongruous sound circled in the outer room and rose in volume. It seemed to be going through the reading room, gathering force like a tornado. It clanged into a lamp. It opened and shut the door to the adjacent room. Graham had just registered that this storm was moving in his direction when the door to the billiard room, already ajar, burst back on its hinges, rapping the wall with its force—the force of several people trying to enter at once. A young woman, a very pregnant young woman, clamored out of a confusion of men, all of whom were trying to contain her.

“Now see here, young lady—”

“This is no place—”

She squirmed free, amazingly agile. “You keep yer filthy ’ands—”

Voices overlapped. Where did one grab a pregnant woman? seemed to be the question of the hour. Tilney, the man beside Graham, tried to intervene. “Madam, there must be some misunderstand—”

“Ain’t no bleedin’ misunderstandin’. If ’e ain’t in this room, ’e’s in another.”

Ah, thought Graham, a lady come to fetch her old man. Or, no. Given her manners and speech, a businesswoman come to collect on a sidestepped fee, for she was no lady. She was barely a woman. Like a kitten sadly fat from her first heat, the little creature looked hardly more than sixteen.

For a moment longer, Graham was still more amused than involved. The girl jostled her way through gripping hands and recriminations. She elbowed one man and grabbed another by the collar. She wanted to be in their midst. She was scanning the men’s encroaching, remonstrating faces, looking them over as thoroughly as they were
trying to turn her about. After a minute of this tussle—the men would not organize themselves for her inspection—she clambered up over the edge of the billiard table, standing on it to look down on them all.

Graham had one more instant of time to be awed afresh by the way Fate had singled him out: He was taller than anyone else in the room, darker, lanky; he was also, he knew, by far the handsomest man in the room. Not for the first time, this fact made him uneasy.

“You!” the girl screamed, as if accusing him of this singularity. She yanked hold of his cue stick. He let the lunatic have it and took a step back.

All eyes turned toward Graham.

“You!” she cried again. “You bloody nob. Thinkin’ you kin do this to me”—her finger poked toward her belly—“and not ’ave a care! Well, I aim to see the ’ole world knows I got me stuck with the earl of Netham’s…” The familiarity brought him up short, made the moment extend endlessly. She knew his face by title, though Graham himself could swear he had never met, never known the girl in any sense of the word. “…the earl of Netham’s brats,” she continued. She took a breath. “Twins!” she shrieked. “Them doctors at Sheffield’s tell me it’s twins! Bloody ’ell!”

“Now wait one moment—” He took a step toward her.

Instantly, she hunched down, bringing the stick she’d commandeered forward, like a crazed young soldier armed with a gun and bayonet. She thrust it at him. Graham ducked a second later than he should have. He took a solid rap on his cheekbone—the girl nearly put his eye out with his own cue stick. Infuriated, he caught hold of the shaft and yanked the stick from the girl’s hands. She lost her balance, and the men rushed forward. They dragged her off the table by her ankles and an elbow to cart her screaming and kicking from the room. Graham could hear her even as she
was put out the front entrance, the heavy doors closed in her face.

For a few seconds, Graham found himself alone. He braced his arms on the billiard table, trying to gather himself together. His palms were wet. Blindly, his mind was trying to give meaning, make sense of the entire absurd event.

Then he noticed the red billiard ball. It was looking up at him from the pocket by his hand, in the exact place where he had intended that it should go. He stood staring at this planned and executed little trick he’d learned to do, while shaking from the horror, the rage he felt that all his life did not obey so well as little balls rolling across a level surface of smooth wool.

 

The incident would go down in Graham’s mind as one of the more embarrassing and unpleasant in any of his recent experience. He had already thought of a dozen ways the girl could know his face and name—he was hardly unknown. But he didn’t know
her,
and he couldn’t reconcile himself to becoming the object of a stranger’s recriminations. The thought
I don’t deserve this
kept rolling around in his head. He hated the self-pitying sound of the phrase, but it wouldn’t leave him alone. His mind wouldn’t clear. “Buck up,” his comrades told him. But he couldn’t. He sent for a double brandy and collapsed into a chair, the blue of cue chalk still slashed up his cheek. He was still in a frayed state when his cousin, William Channing-Downes, caught up with him that day.

It was William’s club as well. William arrived about a half hour after the raving young woman, to circulate among his fellow members in quest of money; he was perpetually short of funds. Happily, Graham hadn’t but ten pounds on him, which he gave up just to hear William stop complaining.

It was a strategy that didn’t quite work. “Let me tell you what has happened to
me
today,” William said as he folded Graham’s money into his pocket. He then proceeded to regale everyone within earshot with the insults heaped on him by a dead man. “I am the most wronged son who ever drew breath….”

William prattled for half an hour before getting to anything of interest. Graham barely listened, since it was seldom necessary to respond to William and since Graham had his own dissatisfactions to mull.

Besides, he knew the gist: Three weeks before, the marquess of Motmarche, William’s father, Henry Channing-Downes, had died. Here was old news, though Graham had yet to figure out how he felt about it. He himself and Henry had never gotten along. William, however, had figured out very well how he felt: greedy and deprived.

“…so Henry’s will this morning, right there, out loud, in front of everyone, leaves me, his one and only son, a small lump sum, hardly anything, while it leaves her, that
woman,
every square inch of the unentailed properties, every halfpenny of income from the rentals and investments, then even goes on to ask the crown”—he made a whinny voice—“please, please to allow my beloved widow, the marchioness, to live out her days at my dear Motmarche.” He reverted to a normal voice. “He wants her in my family home, while he leaves me nothing or next to it! Can you imagine?”

Actually, Graham
could
imagine. For William, the true and only son of the marquess, had unfortunately for him, been born out of wedlock. Another member of Freyer’s, a barrister, earlier that morning had already made everyone’s eyebrows rise quite high with rumors of Henry’s widow inheriting a vast fortune, the extent of which William now more or less corroborated by the extent of his outrage.

He ranted and raved, circling Graham’s chair, while issuing irrational diatribes against the woman. “I’ll contest
the will!” he announced finally. On the basis, so far as Graham could understand, of the insanity of not leaving him more.

William, whose loose brand of logic was always diversion, pulled Graham from his gloom. “What’s she like?” he asked.

“Who?”

“Henry’s widow.”

Till now, Graham had never given Henry’s wife much thought. Henry, he had always assumed, liked her. For a dozen years, it had been clear that William did not. William drew her as a drab, bony creature with wide protruding eyes the size and color of plums. He called her a letter-writer and smart-mouthed female who was vain of her own cleverness and learning: typical of Henry’s tastes. In the past, this had been sufficient to render her thoroughly uninteresting to Graham.

The size of her inheritance, however, would have made anyone curious about her.

“What is a woman doing with that kind of money?” William answered the question with a question.

Graham had nothing against women with money.

“What is a woman doing with that kind of responsibility?” William shook his head in despair.

“How much younger than Henry is she—was she?” Graham knew there had been some age difference.

“Who knows? A lot.” William was not one for details that afternoon. His father’s wife was and always had been a pernicious enigma, secretly insoluble, meant to confound him to the grave. As for Graham’s own episode with the pregnant young lunatic, he had no compassion whatsoever. “You know, Graham,” he advised at the end of his harangue, “you should have known better than to have relations with a crazy girl.”

“Pardon?” Graham blinked.

William had taken it into his head that the girl had marched in here with cause, that Graham was the procreator of unacknowledged twins.

No, no. Let it go. Graham reminded himself that his cousin was simply holding to the lifelong conviction that, between them, Graham was always getting away with something. Still, Graham’s scalp rippled in unease as William went on in presumption.

“After all,” he told Graham, “all people have fathers. And fathers ought to be required—indeed, shackled—to their sons in every conceivable manner from the very start. Let not the sins of the father…Besides, what could one expect? After all,” William smirked and added with a raised finger, “a man must lie in the bed he has made. Retribution, et cetera. Having had the cake, been celebrity to the gossip…”

Graham rubbed the bridge of his nose.

The girl on the billiard table was not the first young woman to throw herself at Graham, though she was the first to do so quite so literally and dramatically. Graham had a history of women putting themselves in his path, trying to grab his cue, so to speak. It was a true phenomenon. People commented about it, joked over it. If anything, it puzzled Graham. Handsomeness alone couldn’t account for it; there were other handsome men who didn’t have nearly the trouble he had with women. He himself, he supposed, would sum it up much as William did. The women weren’t really reaching for him, but rather at his shadow, at the aura of his celebrity.

Graham could pinpoint the beginning of his notoriety. It had begun on the night his father shot his mother, then turned the pistol on himself. In this manner, Graham had become the richest, most landed six-year-old in English history—then the most transient one. He had lived in a total of eight households before coming to rest, at age ten, in
the home of the marquess of Motmarche. By then, however, Graham had raised a good many eyebrows on his own. Fawned over, felt sorry for, he’d been given more latitude than was good for him. He had become headstrong, a little scoundrel, though nothing much worse.

Until Henry. For reasons that completely eluded Graham then and now, the marquess had suddenly stepped forward to take Graham as his legal ward. Since he and Henry were first cousins, perhaps a sense of family duty moved him to make the gesture; certainly any personal rapport was not a factor. Graham and Henry proved capable only of aggravating each other. And the friction that built up between them turned the young scoundrel into an ingenious, full-scale rebel.

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