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Authors: Susannah Bamford

Blind Trust (13 page)

BOOK: Blind Trust
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“I'm feeling very well,” she repeated, trying not to let impatience creep into her voice.

“I think the combination of the weather and the energetic Mrs. Van Cormandt might have been too strenuous for you, dearest,” Claude continued. His eyes moved over her correspondence. Casually, Darcy moved her arm so that her lacy sleeve fell over Columbine's note. But he was so quick. Had he seen the signature?

Abruptly, he turned his back and moved to the window. Still with his back to her, he clasped his hands behind him. “I've come to tell you that we're to leave today,” he said.

Darcy sat up in bed. “Today? But we were to leave Thursday—”

“I have business in town.”

“All right, Claude. If you think it's best to go back. But I think I shall stay on.”

He turned. “I received an answer to my letter to Dr. Arbuthnot, Darcy. He's agreed to see you right away. Isn't that marvelous news? That's the other reason we must go back. He'll see you tomorrow, my dear. It was very difficult for him to schedule the appointment, and I would think you would be more gratified.”

“But I'm in good health, Claude.”

“Yes, you say that. But your behavior, Darcy, speaks otherwise. Your excitability the other day in the library, for example. At other times you've been very quiet—you've been barely eating, I've noticed, and that always means you've been indulging in that morbid sensitivity that troubles you so frequently. And I understand that you went for a walk in inclement weather yesterday morning. It must have been below freezing! My dear, I must confess I'm worried.”

It was useless to argue. His face was set and cold; she knew that look. There was nothing for it but to agree.

Darcy sighed. Her fingers closed around Columbine's note for courage. “Yes, Claude. I'll tell Solange to pack my things.”

To Darcy's relief, her foreboding about Dr. Arbuthnot's visit was ill-founded. He turned out to be a rosy-cheeked Santa Claus who chuckled and beamed and nodded sympathetically as he asked her questions about her childless state, her nerves, and her marital happiness. The physical examination was brief and hardly embarrassed her at all.

Finally, he smiled warmly. “Now, Mrs. Statton. You're quite right about your physical health. Your constitution is excellent. But I must admit, I am slightly concerned about your inability to conceive. I believe it must be related to your mental condition. Women's health, you see, is centered in the womb, and any disturbance there is reflected in the nerves. And, despite what you say, I
do
sense some agitation, some nervous excitability. Are you quite sure that your days are as calm as you say?”

“Well, perhaps things have been unsettled lately,” Darcy admitted. This kindly man made her long to confide in him. But the knowledge that Claude had arranged for him to come held her back by a thread. It was thin as gossamer, but it was a thread. Both Tavish and her father had warned her to be careful. She felt that there was more behind their words than she knew.

“I see. Just as I thought. Excellent. So. I am going to give you a tonic, quite mild, that should help you. Just for a month or so, while this cold weather lasts. It can exacerbate the nerves, you know. Will you promise me to take it faithfully, or will you be naughty and forget?” His blue eyes twinkled at her.

Darcy couldn't help smiling back. “I shall follow your instructions to the letter, Dr. Arbuthnot.”

“Then run away, Mrs. Statton, and rest in your room now. I will just reassure your husband. If you could tell him I wish to see him … He is very concerned about you, you know.”

“Yes, Doctor. I know. I'll tell Mr. Statton you wish to see him.”

Relieved that the experience was over, Darcy climbed the stairs swiftly in search of Claude. He wasn't in his room, where he said he'd be and, hesitating only a moment, she headed for the back stairs to his private offices.

As she approached he was already coming down, closing the door to the stairs behind him.

“Claude, Dr. Arbuthnot would like to speak with you.”

“Good,” he said absently. “I'll go down.”

She walked with him to the top of the stairs. “He found notlv ing wrong,” she couldn't resist saying. “He felt I was in excellent health.”

“Good,” said Claude. Not looking at her, he hurried down the stairs.

Darcy watched him for a moment. He'd seemed a bit distracted. And something nagged at her, something she couldn't place for a moment.

He'd not locked the door.

She could be in his private office in a moment. She could seize the chance.

It took barely a second for her to made the decision. She might not get another opportunity. Turning, she ran quickly back to the stairs. The door opened easily and made no sound at all. Her heart was beating wildly, and she felt her legs shake as she swiftly climbed the stairs.

It was strange, but she'd only been up here once before, when Claude had first showed her the house before they were married. She had been amused then, by the Eastern decor he'd chosen. It brought harems and seraglios to mind, with its thick Turkish rugs and brass ornaments and ruby curtains with bright gold tassels. She'd pictured Claude reclining on the low day bed, with a fez on his head and smoking a hookah, and a giggle had escaped her. When he'd asked her what was amusing and she'd shaken her head, not answering, she'd seen the first crack in his smooth facade. There had been a look in his eyes that day that had chilled her, given her a new glimpse into the future before her. She'd tried to forget it, and she had. Would that she had obeyed her instincts that day and broken the engagement!

Remembering, Darcy stepped into the dim apartments. They were just as she'd remembered. The long desk in one corner looked out of place amid the rich opulence reeking of sensuality. Now she was no longer amused by the incongruity of Claude's office. She only felt its strangeness. It disturbed her and made her wonder about the sweating, dismal nights he'd spent in her bed. What was her husband really like? she wondered, standing stock-still in the middle of the lavish room.

Then she gave herself a mental shake. For heaven's sake, she didn't have time for musing over her husband's oddities. She crossed to the desk but only gave the papers a cursory glance. It seemed routine correspondence, letters and balance sheets. But of course, Claude wouldn't keep any secret materials on his desk. Darcy spun around anxiously, her eyes darting around the room.

She tried the filing cabinet next. Flipping through the different files took long minutes. One drawer, then the next, then the next. Darcy wondered how long she'd been gone, and wished she'd remembered to note the time before she'd run upstairs. It couldn't have been more than ten minutes, she judged. Dr. Arbuthnot was loquacious. But how soon would Claude return?

One more drawer, and then she'd go. Hurriedly, she yanked open the bottom drawer. It seemed full of business items, like the others, at first. But Darcy's eyes suddenly widened in surprise when she recognized the handwriting on one letter. Keeping a finger to mark the place, she extracted it from the file.

It was a letter to her from her uncle Lemuel. It had been written from Boston on one of his trips and described the spring weather and the business he was doing. It mentioned a visit to her cousin Florence and her new husband. Innocuous, charming, inconsequential, like many letters. Why had Claude kept it from her?

Shaking her head, Darcy replaced the letter and saw that there were others from her uncle in the file. She looked through the rest and saw only more business letters from a man called Dargent, dating from last year to that January. They were sent from places like London, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston.

And then she saw it—an envelope addressed to her. And it was in her mother's handwriting. Her fingers trembled as she plucked the envelope from the file and opened it.

Dearest Darcy
,

I suppose it is strange to you that I am breaking this long silence at last. I will not say much
,
for fear that you do not wish to hear details of my life here in Paris. Know that I think of you daily
,
my darling child
,
and wish with all my heart that we could meet. I do not ask for your forgiveness
,
I only pray that one day you will feel ready to reopen relations of some kind with me. Despite what I have done
,
I love you. You are my only regret
.

Amelia

Darcy sank to her knees. Amelia had written her directly. And Claude had concealed the letter! Surely this was even worse than concealing correspondence from her uncle. How many other of her letters had he held back from her? Darcy looked at the date. One year ago Amelia had written this. She doubted if she would have answered it then, but oh, how she would have wanted to receive it!

Darcy's legs trembled, and she sank down on the rug for a moment. She stared with unseeing eyes at the Eastern opulence of the room. Her mother had written her. Her mother thought of her every day. Her mother wanted to see her again. That had been plain in every line.

And as she stared across the room, her senses unfocused, stunned, she became aware that footsteps were climbing the stairs. Soft, light footsteps. Darcy raised her head. It was Claude.

Seven

I
N HER PANIC
, Darcy moved quicker than she could form a thought. She scuttled backward on her knees, then jumped up and ran. All she had time for was to slip behind a seventeenth-century embroidered damask screen. It was only after she was behind it that she wondered if she'd been wise. Perhaps she should have stood her ground, made an excuse for being there. She was his wife, after all; what could he do? Now she might be trapped here for hours, or worse, locked upstairs after he left!

Claude entered the room with rapid footsteps. Hardly daring to breathe, she peeked out through the tiny crack between the panels of the screen. His back to her, he moved to a small cabinet against one wall. She watched him fish inside his vest pocket and take out his watch. He snapped open the side and extracted a small key, then opened the cabinet. Darcy couldn't see what was inside, but he slid out a bundle wrapped in brown paper. He put it under his arm, closed and locked the cabinet, then left the room as quickly as he had come.

Darcy closed her eyes in concentration to catch the sound of a key in the downstairs lock. She had been so foolish, so reckless, to run up here. She must have been mad. Desperately praying Claude wouldn't lock the door, she strained to catch the sound. But she heard nothing except the sound of his footsteps dying away.

Fear propelled her forward. She suddenly could not remain there a second longer. She ran across the room, almost slid down the stairs, and wrenched open the door to the upstairs hall.

The air tasted like freedom, and she realized how close the air upstairs was. She gulped it down as she ran to her room, glad there were no servants about. She closed the door behind her and leaned against it, trying to catch her breath.

At last her breathing slowed and she went to the mirror and straightened her collar, smoothed her hair, and tried to compose her features. Perhaps a drive in the Central Park would give her time to puzzle out what she'd found and what she should do.

The decision made, she rose to ring for Solange when there was a knock at her door and her servant appeared.

“You're wanted in the library, madam. Mr. Statton said to send for you.”

“Thank you, Solange.” Darcy cast one more look in the mirror and smoothed her hair again. She knew she did not look composed, but she would just have to do her best with Claude. Perhaps she could blame her agitation on her outraged modesty after the doctor's examination.

But she didn't get the chance. When she walked into the library, hanging onto her composure by her fingernails, she stopped dead. For there was a quiet triumph in Claude's eyes that he couldn't disguise. And, on the desk next to the kindly Dr. Arbuthnot, were her cloak and boots, a letter she recognized at once as the one Columbine had sent to her at Greenbriars, and the copy of
Leaves of Grass
.

“I've been talking to Dr. Arbuthnot about my concerns, my dear,” Claude said in a voice as thick as honey.

Darcy had to bite her lip to prevent herself from crying out.
How dare you
, she wanted to say. She wanted to rail against him, against this invasion of her privacy, this injustice. But she did not. She knew that it was Claude's right as a husband to search her things, to read her mail. She dug her nails in her palms behind her back. She knew everything depended on her composure. Dr. Arbuthnot had seemed so kind, so fair. Surely he, too, must be outraged at Claude's conduct, bringing her private letters and her books to him.

“Now, Mrs. Statton,” the doctor said, “please sit down.”

“No, thank you,” Darcy said. Her voice surprised her; it sounded strong. Perhaps that gave her courage, for she was able to turn to Claude. “I see you've been in my room, Mr. Statton.”

“I felt that Dr. Arbuthnot should see the evidence of your instability, my dear. These cloak and boots were found hurled under the furniture in a room that is used only in summer. This letter reveals that there have been secret visits to a divorced woman who has scandalized every Christian in this nation with her views on free love. And this”—Claude picked up
Leaves of Grass
gingerly—“this depraved volume. I tell myself that you do not grasp what this man stands for, what he advocates. But the language, the sentiments—they are an abomination, which every right-thinking citizen knows to be as pernicious as—”

“Mr. Emerson did not think so.”

“Mr. Emerson,” Claude answered, his voice calm as he casually walked to the fire and threw the book on top of the burning logs, “was well known as a free-thinker himself and is not to be trusted as a guide for moral conduct. Where these ideas are leading you is obvious and a great pain to me, which I shall not speak of.” Darcy watched, her throat full of tears, as the volume began to catch. “At the Van Cormandts' you disgraced yourself and me by your conduct—it was the talk of everyone there. It is obvious that you have fallen under a depraved influence, my dear, for how else could you have walked about with that Mr. Finn, an Irishman?” Claude picked up a poker and stirred the flames, and the book began to curl and burn merrily. “We do not know where he comes from, his family—”

BOOK: Blind Trust
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