Authors: Susannah Bamford
“What makes you think Claude will receive you?”
“If he is there, he may not. But no one has been instructed to keep me out, I'm sure. Claude doesn't know that Darcy came here to see me. To pay a return call is a natural thing. Once, I didn't go deliberately because I knew she had come here in secret. But if I can see her alone it will be worth his discovering that she came. Do you see? At the very least,” Columbine said grimly, “no one will attack me physically.” She shook his arm a bit. “It's worth a try, Tavish. Then, if I fail, you can do your best.”
Tavish looked down at Columbine's fingers on his sleeve. Her hands were strong and capable. Columbine had traveled across two countries, had visited slums and brothels and shanty towns, had spoken and shouted and railed against kings and queens and presidents. She would not be afraid of Claude Statton.
“All right,” he said. “Try.”
“But I am expected,” Columbine said to the poker-faced servant.
“Mrs. Statton is not at home,” he repeated again.
Columbine thought furiously, but she knew she was beaten. She could not get past the largest footman in New York, and to go where? To run down the marble halls hollering “Darcy” up stairwells and down galleries?
Sighing, she extracted her card. She turned without another word and went through the door another servant held open. She supposed that at Claude Statton's, you needed more than one servant to answer the door.
But she wasn't beaten yet. Columbine headed down Fifth, but she turned at the corner and went to the side of the house. She knocked at the door to the kitchens.
A petite maid opened the door. She was so tiny and pretty that Columbine wondered how she handled the hard work the job entailed. She looked startled at the fineness of Columbine's appearance and unsure whether to direct her elsewhere.
“Good day,” Columbine said. “I realize you must be very busy here in the kitchens, but if you'd allow me just a moment of your time. I represent the New Women Society, and we are specifically campaigning for enrollment of women like yourself.” As Columbine talked, she moved. The young maid was easier to get by than the footman, that was certain. In a moment, she was almost in the kitchen.
The maid recovered quickly, however. I'm sorry, I can't help you, ma'am.”
“Oh, but I think you can, uhâ” Columbine raised her eyebrows to ask for the maid's name.
“Daisy,” Columbine said warmly. “My name is Columbine Nash.”
“Columbine Nash! Oh, of course, I've heard of you, ma'am. My mother saw you speak. She was inspired, she was.”
“How kind of you to tell me. I wonder if I could trouble you for a glass of water, Daisy. I've been walking for some time, and â¦” Columbine put a hand to her forehead. “Oh, dear me, I feel a bit faint.”
A surprisingly strong hand gripped her forearm. “Let me help you to the table, ma'am. You can sit a spell, and I'll get you your water.”
Columbine allowed herself to be led to the kitchen table. The kitchen was busy, with cooks and assistants and scullions and maids scurrying about. Daisy gave a quick introduction to the chef, who seemed to be in charge. He nodded at her and went about his tasks busily.
A tall, dark woman in a navy-blue silk dress with white lace at the throat and wrists walked in. Her face was thin, her mouth severe. “Madame's tea,” she said in a strong French accent. “I rang ten minutes ago, Mary, andâ” She stopped when she saw Columbine.
The kitchen maid looked uneasy. “Yes, yes, Mademoiselle Foucard, I'm getting it. This here is a young lady who felt faint. She'll be gone in a minute.”
Daisy appeared and handed Columbine a glass of water. Mademoiselle Foucard turned without a word and left the kitchen.
“Oh, dear,” Daisy said, her pretty face creased with anxiety.
“Perhaps you'd better be going now, ma'am,” Mary said kindly. But she looked quickly at the closed kitchen door.
“Of course,” Columbine said, sipping her water slowly. She looked from Mary to Daisy. Daisy was better dressed and seemed less nervous. She might have access to the upper floor of the house. “Daisy,” she said, “I wonder if you'd do me a favor.” She folded a bill around a small envelope. “I wonder if you'd give this to your mistress.”
Daisy's blue eyes rounded. “Oh, I couldn't do that, ma'am.”
“I would so appreciate it,” Columbine said, pushing the card closer so that Daisy could see the dollar amount on the bill. “It would help your mistress, Daisy. I promise. She's acquainted with me, you see, but I'm afraid they won't let me see her upstairs.”
“Well, then, I couldn'tâ”
The masculine voice boomed behind her. “What is this?” Columbine didn't have to turn; she knew by the scurry and flutter in the kitchen that the master had entered. Daisy placed a dishtowel on top of Columbine's note.
Columbine stood and turned, blocking the dishtowel on the bare table and praying he had not seen the envelope underneath it. Claude Statton stood in the doorway to the kitchen. His yellow eyes gleamed at her, and his mouth was pursed.
“I left my card at your door, Mr. Statton, but on my way I'm afraid I had a dizzy spell. So I found myself here. Your servants have been very kind.”
“I see.” His manner told her clearly that she was not welcome in the least.
“I'll be going.” Columbine turned and reached for her purse and shawl. She walked out of the kitchen under Claude Statton's cold glance. She pitied Daisy and Mary and every servant in the kitchen. But most of all she pitied Darcy Statton.
But perhaps Daisy would take her courage in her hands and deliver the note. It depended on how much she hated Claude Stattonâor how much she feared him, Columbine admitted. She walked back to Fifth Avenue, digging into her purse for change for a hansom cab. Her fingers closed around the small envelope she'd tried to pass to Daisy. The banknote was still wrapped around it.
“Damn,” said Columbine, though she never swore. It gave suffragists such a bad name. She looked up at the fortress of a house that Claude Statton had built. Her eyes roamed the second-floor windows, pausing at a pair of French doors at a small balcony. A lace curtain flickered, and then she made out the face.
“Darcy,” Columbine breathed. She raised a gloved hand to get her attention. But she stopped in the middle of the wave. Darcy had seen her, all right. But she gave no sign. She stared out, her expression inscrutable. Then she moved away and was swallowed up by the shadows of the house.
Claude stood in the doorway to her room. “You know I don't like you to stand at the window, my dear. They'd be lining up outside and charging a nickel for the privilege of watching Claude Statton's house.”
“Get back in bed, dearest. Solange is getting your tea.”
“Yes, Claude. I'm so tired.”
“I know, dear. I know. But the doctor is coming tomorrow. He'll fix everythingâtomorrow.”
ARCY AWOKE FROM
her nap slowly. It felt as though dense, heavy earth lay on top of her body, and she had to fight her way through it to consciousness. Perhaps she had dreamed she'd been buried alive, but she did not remember her dream. She licked her lips; her mouth was so dry. She opened her heavy lids and the room slowly came into fociis. She was alone.
What is happening to me?
she wondered groggily. No matter how she slept, she only seemed to grow more fatigued and sluggish. Was Claude right, was she really ill? Suddenly frightened, Darcy tried to rise.
“Father â¦” she murmured.
“It is only me, Madame,” Solange said. Darcy hadn't even heard the door open or close. Solange approached the bed, her skirts whispering across the carpet. Her cold white hands darted out and adjusted the pillows behind Darcy's head.
“You can sleep again, Madame. But first, your dose.”
Darcy tried to organize the blur of Solange's features into a face. “Solange â¦”
“Yes, Madame, it is Solange.” The maid smiled. Her bared teeth were wet. They seemed to glow in the darkened room. Darcy shrank back against the pillows.
“Yes, relax, Madame.” Solange drew back. The sibilant sound of her skirts seemed loud to Darcy's ears as she moved away. She headed toward the dressing table where the tonic was kept along with the porcelain cup Darcy drank it from. Solange's thin hands curled around the bottle. She approached the bed again. Her dark green dress rustled as though she were gliding through dry weeds.
Darcy watched Solange pour the tonic into the cup. Her head felt so heavy, lolling on the pillow when she tried to hold it up. The honey color of the tonic was so beautiful in the soft light. Solange moved so slowly, so gracefully, her hands an arc of undulating movement. Darcy felt her eyes begin to close. Soon, she would sleep again.
Solange held out the cup. Darcy had to force her fingers to grasp it. The porcelain felt cold against her skin. The tonic would be warm. It would warm her so pleasantly.
The tonic. How she had begun to look forward to it. And yet â¦ She had existed in this strange twilight for some time now, she thought. A day, two days? When was the last time she'd felt strong? Darcy struggled to think.
She closed her eyes, and an image floated into her mind. Tavish Finn was standing, dark and tall, under a bare oak in the park. His eyes were fixed on her. She saw him; her heart lifted and she began to run. She ran toward his strength, she smiled at his handsome face, but as she drew closer she saw something more: pain.
He loves me
, she thought with sudden force. He loved me that day, and he loves me still.
Why had she turned her back on him? Was it that one afternoon that had changed it all for her? It had been a little lie, really, and perhaps he could have explained it. Why had she decided to suddenly retreat, when she had gone forward so boldly? Darcy twisted in the sheets, trying to remember, trying to understand.
“Come, Madame. Drink. Then you can sleep again.”
Darcy's eyes flew open. Solange bobbed her thin, long head encouragingly. Her tiny tongue flicked out and licked her lips.
“Drink,” she said soothingly.
Darcy nodded. But this time when her lips touched the cup something revolted. She mimed a swallow. “I'm cold,” she said, shivering. “My shawl â¦”
“Yes, Madame. If you would drink this first, I will fetch the shawl.”
Darcy forced sharpness into her tone. “I'm cold, Solange. Fetch it now.”
“Of course, Madame.” Solange turned and went toward the shawl at the end of the bed. Concentrating hard, Darcy reached over to pour the tonic into the SÃ¨vres jardiniere on her bedside table. But her arm was so weak. It trembled, and the cup clinked against the porcelain. The tonic spilled down the vase and pooled on the table.
Solange twisted around. Her eyes glittered. “Madame,” she said, “I cannot allow this.”
“I don't want to take the tonic, Solange,” Darcy said, settling back against the pillows. She remembered that Solange was her servant, and summoned up the appropriate attitude, folding her hands to disguise their trembling. “You may go.”
“But I'm afraid I cannot, Madame. I take my orders from Monsieur, you see.” Solange wound the shawl around Darcy's shoulders. The soft cashmere felt like a vise. “So. I shall get you another dose of tonic. The doctor has just arrived. He is dining with your husband. They will wish to see you afterward. But first, you may take a little nap.”
So Solange was her master, after all, and the doctor was downstairs. Darcy closed her eyes again with impotent fury. She listened to the rustle of Solange crossing the room. She heard the chink of glass against the cup, the liquid pouring. Her brief rebellion had exhausted her.
help me. I need you
She heard Solange rustle toward the bed again. Her maid had won; Darcy would have to take the tonic. She would sleep. And then, perhaps, she would have the strength to try again.
Tavish saw the failure in the set of Columbine's weary shoulders as she stepped down from the hansom cab. Her footsteps faltered on the front stairs. He could tell she was wondering how to tell him that she'd not succeeded.
He went toward the front door, brushing by Bell in the hallway. “I'll see to Columbine, Bell.”
Bell curtsied and turned back toward the kitchen, where she was undoubtedly gossiping with Mrs. Hudson over a cup of tea while the older woman prepared dinner. Tavish felt a sudden longing to sit in a warm, fragrant kitchen and listen to Bell's sharp-tongued assessment of the neighbors. Sure, he was a base, cowardly fool, he was. It didn't matter how present and important the danger. It never failed that across his mind would flicker a longing for a good hot meal and some peace.
Cursing himself, he opened the front door. “You didn't see her,” he said to Columbine.
She shook her head as she came in. “I tried the servants' entrance, too, Tavish.” Wearily, she began to remove her hat. “I did my best. And then I saw her, up at the window. She didn't even nod at me.” Columbine shivered. “Something's not right. We'll have to come up with another plan. At least I saw no sign of a doctor.”
She nodded. “Yet. Perhaps tomorrow we canâ”
“Tomorrowâ¦” The word was a question. Tavish felt suddenly confused, as though his brain was having trouble catching up with the rest of him.
“Surely nothing will happen tonight, Tavish. It's nearly seven o'clock.”
Tavish didn't answer. He stood still in the dark hall, Columbine a shadow beside him. He heard her breathing, waiting. Something gripped him, a force, a premonition, a feeling that had suddenly invaded him and settled into his superstitious Irish bones. He shouldn't wait until tomorrow. Darcy needed him tonight.
He turned to Columbine. “Tonight it will be, Columbine, mark my words. I have to go tonight.”