Authors: Susannah Bamford
An imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.
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Copyright Â© 1990 Susan Bamford
First Rowman & Littlefield paperback edition 2014
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ISBN 13: 978-1-59077-376-5 (pbk: alk. paper)
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For Kathi Lynne
T WAS EITHER
leave him or kill him.
It had come down to that, at last.
Darcy Statton sat alone in her bedroom on the edge of the gilt armchair that had belonged to the dauphin of Louis XIV. It was after midnight, and the house was filled with a huge silence. Rigid, unable to bend because of the corset underneath her elaborate white satin gown, she tracked the silence through the house, imagining it as a force that moved. It clung to the high corners of the rooms, it scampered down long marble halls, it meandered around the elaborate curls of boiserie, it slid against limestone walls. It pressed against her breastbone, and it whispered of madness in her ear.
Her feet hurt, but she did not remove her shoes. Her husband was to come to her later. That meant that she must send away her maid and sit in her room, with her hair still done and her diamonds on and her Worth gown billowing uncomfortably around her waist and her corset pressing red welts into her flesh and her feet aching, and wait. She had disobeyed him once, she had slipped into a dressing gown and uncoiled her hair, and she would never do it again. Sometimes he didn't come at all, and she would fall asleep in her chair, waking with a start at four or five. Even the difficulty of undressing herself properly and getting herself to bed was nothing next to the relief.
Tonight had been such an ordinary evening. One evening in a long trail of evenings, glittering and dull, the same words said to the same people, the same silent carriage ride home through the snow. There was always snow. Sometimes she felt that summer took place in the time it took her to blink. One day she changed from merino to muslin, and the next day it was time to change back again.
Now she heard the snow hit her windows like the skittering pats of tiny fingertips. Darcy turned her head. She stared out at the cold black night and tried to think of summer; she pictured the lush greens of Central Park, the lawns of Newport, her many floating white dresses, her elaborate hats. She tried to remove any trace of the here and now from her mind. But she was drawn back to tonight. To the snow that fell around them and melted on their wraps as they stepped inside the house, Darcy shivering, for the marble vestibule never provided any warmth. Even in the dead heat of summer, she shivered when she entered this house. She had begun to glide away toward the staircase when Claude had touched her arm. He had said that after he looked over some papers, he would come to her. It was late; she was tired; he knew it. She could not refuse. And while she had nodded the acquiescence it was her duty to give, she had felt a frightening rage. It had filled her blood and her limbs with an awesome strength, and for the first time in her life, she knew how one could do murder and receive pleasure from it.
Closing her eyes, she pictured it. When Claude came later tonight, she would be sitting just as she was now, still dressed in her diamonds and her heavy white satin gown with the gold sash. His yellow eyes would glitter with unusual lights as he entered, nervously drawing his dressing gown tighter around him. First, he would begin his private ritual of examining her, a ritual that she dreaded almost as much as what followed it. She hated the touch of his cold hands, she hated the way his thin fingers trembled, the dead intent look in his eyes. He would run his hands along the material of her dress, fondle the diamonds, examine her lace. He would exult in the exquisite perfection of the Parisian stitches in her underclothes. Sometimes he ran his skeletal fingers along the veins of her wrist, and Darcy knew he was thinking of the impeccable blood that ran beneath her skin, the blood of the Snows and the Graces. That would excite him more than his gropings between his own legs, thin as twigs underneath his dressing gown. He would close his eyes, and his odd, full red lips would purse, his breath coming heavily, as he squeezed and kneaded himself damply. And at last, he would push her down on the bed of carved ebony inlaid with gold that had been dismantled and removed from the master bedroom of a French chateau. Not once would he touch her breasts, her legs, her belly. Not once would his too-red lips touch hers. He would begin.
But this time, this time, something within her would break, would snap. She would reach under her pillow and her fingers would close on the heavy marble bookend. She would raise it above his head, that long head with its lank streaks of blond hair trailing down the scalp. His eyes would be shut, he would be sweating with his efforts. She would feel him, inert against her belly, his hands trying to stiffen himself enough to gain entry. And she would crash it down on his bony skull, and she would feel the ecstasy of his slight body going slack, the exhilaration of pushing his spindly legs, his dank, flaccid torso, off her. And she would leap from the bed triumphant.
No scandal, no calumny, no prison term could defeat the glory of that moment.
Lord, forgive me.
Darcy bent over, her elbows pressed into her stomach, and forced herself to breathe deeply. He was her husband. He gave her everything. He was scrupulously polite. Didn't he offer her a shawl when she was cold, a glass of wine when she was agitated, a cold cloth if she was overheated? He rang for her maid if she was the slightest bit upset; he soothed her if she was irritable or tired. Years ago, he had told everyone that her nerves were poor. If she raised her voice even slightly, if she laughed too often or danced too much, he would remonstrate.
Don't overexcite yourself, my dear. You remember what happened the other day
But I'm fine
I'm fine, Claude! Please let me keep dancing
Now, my dear. Come, come, my pet. You excite yourself, can't you see that? Let me help you to a chair
What could she do? Where could she go? Who could she run to? There was no one she could speak to of such things. Conversations in her circle revolved around the weather and upcoming social events. Even her bubbly widowed cousin Adelle, a woman who occasionally spoke with surprising frankness, was not a person Darcy could go to with her marital trouble. She would have to hint, to convey her desperation with eye and hand. And Adelle would laugh, pass it off, uncomfortable and wondering why Darcy didn't keep it to herself.
Abruptly, Darcy stood and went to the window to stare outside at the drifting snow. If Claude could see her, he would remonstrate, for like Mrs. Astor he would not stand by a window at any time for fear the rabble on the street would glimpse him. The carriages from the Fifth Avenue mansions around her would be returning soon, the high-stepping horses clouding the air with their breath, the passersby calling aloud the distinctive liveries, the light blue of the Astors, the maroon of the Vanderbilts. The maids and valets would be waiting up, yawning and cold, to put them all decently to bed.
In that world, women did not leave their husbands. But for the first time Darcy wondered if perhaps more of them would if there was anywhere they could go.
The thought roared through her brain with such fury she had to grip the velvet curtains to keep herself upright.
She could leave tonight.
“No,” Darcy said aloud, shaking her head. One had to plan such things. Everyone knew that.
She had no need of concealment, of train tickets, of the ship to France her mother had taken at dawn. No need to take trunks of dresses and jewels, no need to transfer monies to Europe to support herself and her lover. Darcy had no money of her own. And she certainly had no lover.
She could leave right now
if she dared.
If she dared. Daring, and courage, had fled so long ago, years ago, when she put the bit between her teeth and stopped trying to buck her way through her marriage. Courage. She would have to remember what it was like, when she was seventeen and had taken over the running of her family. How frightened she'd been, how she'd had to force herself to rise in the mornings sometimes, how she'd had to steel herself not to shriek at her father, his eyes rolling at her helplessly, how she'd had to reverse years of training and learn how to
. To learn how to do, instead of to simply be.
Deliberately, Darcy pushed open the leaded glass pane and stuck out her hand. She scooped a mound of snow that lay on the sill and buried her face in it.
The shock of the wet and the cold cleared her mind. She forced herself to think, to analyze and plan. Her maid had been sent away to bed with the rest of the servants. Although Claude employed a legion of them, he disliked seeing the help. His standing order was that they pause and stand with their face to the wall if he happened to walk by. He was upstairs now, locked away in his third-floor private office. No one would be about. The snow wasn't too deep. If she could get out of the house, she could get a hack or a horsecar to her father's house easily. He was only a few steps off Fifth, at Twenty-eighth street. She would have to leave so much, personal items she held dear. But there was a price for everything, Darcy told herself. She could do it, and the only way to do it was to leave with just the clothes on her back.