Authors: Susannah Bamford
“How do you know this?” he demanded, stopping and turning to her.
“I overheard them talking. Uncle Lemuel, it was just a way to control my father so that he wouldn't encourage me to leave.”
“I cannot fathom such a mind, such a â¦” He came back to the sofa and sat down. He took her hands. “I will protect you. I want you to pack your things and come to my house.”
“But, Uncle Lemuel, I am disgraced. You can't take me in.”
He shook his head, disregarding her interruption. “I've spoken to your aunt Marie, and she urges me to press you to come. Your father won't be able to stand against Claude, that is painfully obvious. But I have no financial dealings with your husband, and he knows I despise him. He will not come to my house. You'll be safe. Isn't that what you need, Darcy?”
“Yes,” she said hesitantly.
“And as much as I admire your friend Mrs. Nash, I do think it would be better for you to remain with family, at least for a little while. We need to make legal arrangements, and they can be troublesome.”
“I suppose you're right. But wouldn't Father be hurt if I didn't go to him?”
Lemuel sighed. He patted her hand and let it go. “Ah, Darcy, how can I say this? I think Edward just might be relieved.”
Darcy thought about this. She saw that Lemuel looked anxious, afraid of offending her. He and Edward had never been close. But Lemuel wouldn't lie about Edward's capabilities. “Yes, Uncle. Perhaps you're right. There is just one thing â¦”
“Yes, my dear?”
“Would you forbid the house to Columbine Nash?”
Lemuel looked shocked. “Of course I would not. I wouldn't dream of restricting your callers. You may receive anyone you want, Darcy.”
She swallowed. “And Mr. Finn?”
“Ah. Mr. Finn.” Lemuel frowned. “You may receive him if you wish, of course. But I would strongly advise you to wait, Darcy. It would be better for you in the long run.”
“Columbine says that as well. Uncle Lemuel, I would be happy to come. Thank you.”
“Splendid. The preparations have all been made. Ill send another carriage for your thingsâ”
“But I have no things. I left in something of a hurry, remember?”
Lemuel laughed. “Of course, how stupid of me. You can come with me tonight, then. And tomorrow I will have Claude send your things.”
“I don't think he will agree â¦”
“He will agree,” her uncle said darkly. Darcy sipped her wine, feeling relieved. Her uncle, that model of courtliness, had an unexpectedly tough strain that surfaced in times of trouble. She'd forgotten how stubborn the Graces could be. Her mother hadn't been the only strong one in the family. Oh, there were plenty of Adelles in the list of the four hundred. But thank God for the Lemuels.
It wasn't that Darcy disliked Lemuel's wife, her aunt Marieâshe just didn't think of her. As a debutante, Marie had possessed a pallid, blond prettiness, and that coupled with her good Dutch name and her fortune had gained her many suitors. But now, at middle age, she was faded and pale, and one had to search for the marks of her former beauty. Her nose was fine, her eyes were blue, her teeth good. But she was so dour, and her slimness had turned to a skeletal thinness.
She saw kindly to Darcy's comfort, and she did not utter one word of censure. Darcy was quiet and withdrawn, for truth to tell she was melancholy at parting from Columbine and not being able to see Tavish. Her aunt naturally interpreted it as the reaction to the dissolution of her marriageânot to be mention her blacklisting from society. Marie stole looks at her as she bustled around the bedroom, straightening a curtain here and a knickknack there.
“I hope you'll be quite comfortable,” Marie said.
“I'm sure I shall, Aunt. Everything is lovely.”
Marie nodded and began to withdraw. But then she said suddenly, fiercely, “I'm glad you left him. It was good you left him. Don't waste your tears on
Darcy was still staring, open-mouthed, when her aunt Marie retreated and shut the door.
It was the first and last outburst from Marie. Life at the Graces' was quiet and serene. Columbine called both Friday and Saturday, Darcy and Marie had silent but companionable lunches, and Lemuel canceled their guests in order to have quiet family dinners.
Saturday afternoon, Darcy sat down to do the thing she'd been thinking of for two days. She went to Lemuel's study, took pen and paper, and went back to her room to compose a letter to her mother. She opened her window halfway, for spring was in the air, and she wanted to feel the softness of the breeze while she wrote.
She had torn up a half-dozen attempts when Marie knocked and entered her room, wringing her hands. Darcy stared, transfixed, at Marie's bony, accentuated knuckles appearing and disappearing underneath her curling thin fingers.
“He's here, Darcy. I could not keep him out. I said I would not receive him, but he walked in, brazen. Such cheek, such insolenceâif only Mr. Grace were here!”
Darcy stood. “Do you mean Claude?”
“You don't have to see him. Don't worry, I do not think the man will come to your bedroom. But I wanted to warn you that he is sitting in the parlor. And, Darcy, he said he will not leave until he talks to you!”
“I'll telegraph to Mr. Grace downtown, and he can be here within the hour, if we're lucky. Oh, I wish we had a telephone. Mr. Grace keeps threatening to put one inâ”
Darcy patted her aunt's shoulder. “Don't worry, Aunt. I'll see Mr. Statton. You don't have to bother Uncle Lemuel. Claude just wants to talk to me. I'm sure he won't be disagreeable.” Darcy spoke with an assurance she didn't feel in the least.
She walked slowly to the parlor. Claude was standing by the window, his back to her, his hands clasped behind him.
He turned. “Thank you for seeing me.”
She nodded. She did not offer her hand.
“Your uncle has informed me that I am to send your things here. Do you wish this, Darcy?”
She nodded again.
He didn't move; his face was rigid, tightly controlled. But she saw that he had been ravaged by what had happened. His eyes were sad, so sad that she found it difficult to believe that she was looking at her husband.
“I want you back,” he said.
OU CANNOT BE
serious,” Darcy said.
“But I am. Will you sit, Darcy?”
She shook her head, and he sighed. He looked down at his hat on the floor, with his pearl-gray gloves tucked inside, the cane beside themâthe signs of a gentlemanly afternoon call, always placed on the floor or a windowsill, not on the furniture. He was dressed impeccably as manners dictated. But she could see now, from the sun streaming through the embroidered net curtains, the bruise on his temple, yellowish-green and nasty-looking, and she remembered Tavish's cane lashing out, and the small, mean gun in Claude's hand.
“How could you have the gall to come here?” she asked slowly. “After what you tried to do to meâ”
He rushed in so quickly, it was as though he was only waiting for her to bring up the subject. “Dr. Arbuthnot is a highly respected surgeon. I was following his advice, medical advice that was put to me in the strongest possible terms, Darcy. I was worried about you, I felt I needed to do something. If I picked the wrong advisorâ”
“The wrong advisor? You speak of this as a business deal! This is my
, Claude! My health, my ability to bear childrenâ”
“But it seemed you could not bear children. Dr. Arbuthnot felt this was clear, that the womb was diseased. You can see why I felt his treatment would cure you.”
“Cure me of what? Unhappiness?” Darcy shook her head. “It does no good to talk,” she said wearily. “I am sure you knew exactly what you were doing, Claude. You are not such an innocent, nor do you blindly follow the advice of anyone.”
“Perhaps that is true in business. But not in medicine, Darcy. I am ignorant in such matters. I was lost. But you're right. Let's not speak of it. In a way I am glad of Mr. Finn's interference. I see that now. What is more important to me is the continuation of our union.”
Now Darcy did sit down. “I do not believe this,” she murmured.
He sat opposite her, his hands on his knees, leaning toward her. “We would start againâI would start again. I was too possessive, I know that now. You would have your freedom, Darcy, the freedom to come and go as you please, make the friends you please. And if you wished it, I would not trouble you at night.”
She gave him a dry look.
“I would not. You would be free, and I would be free. But we would be married. Forgive me for being so blunt, Darcy, but I believe it is time we were honest with each other.”
“You speak of honesty?” she said, almost bemused. “And freedom? This from a man who censored my letters, who kept my correspondence from meâoh, yes, Claude, I know that you did!”
He stood and turned his back to her. She knew he was struggling to tame his rage, to compose his face. “You went into my private office,” he said icily, his back to her. “You went through my files.”
She stood and went around to stand in front of him. “Yes, I did, Claude. Tell me it was wrong. Tell me from the vantage point of a man who went through my letters and censored them. Innocent letters from my uncle, and worst of all, a letter from my mother who I have not seen in more than ten years.”
“I am your husband!” he shouted, his face mottled. “I have such rights!”
She shrugged lightly, though her limbs were trembling from the violence of his words. “And you speak to me of freedom,” she said contemptuously. “You speak to me of change.”
He controlled himself; she could see the effort. He was breathing hard now. “It is this man, this Finn. This shanty Irishman who is in your bed.”
“As you have seen fit to inform all New York.”
“I have said nothing, madam,” he said quietly. “Nothing, though your lover invaded my house and attacked me, for which I could have called the chief of police that evening and had him thrown in jail. But I did not, for I still wished for you to return. But you have made it very clear to me that you are past rehabilitation, that you are sunk in the lowest levels of depravity.” He bent and picked up his hat, gloves, and cane. “And I shall leave you there, madam.”
“I'm so pleased we are able to part on good terms, Claude,” Darcy said sardonically. She didn't know how she managed it; perhaps it was because she knew it was the only tone that would disturb him. He would want to see her upset. He would want to see her cry. He had always derived such pleasure from her tears. God help her, she would not give him that.
He went toward the door. Then he turned, as though for an afterthought, something that had just lightly occurred to him. “By the way, Mrs. StattonâI think you should know that I will destroy Tavish Finn.”
She said nothing. Now, she was truly afraid, for his face was too calm.
“This man who talks of his work with the Grange, who bellyaches about the rapacious railroadsâhow interesting it would be for people to know that he is working secretly for them. That he is a traitor. That he was the one who sold out his ragged home-town in California.”
“It isn't true,” she said scornfully.
Claude laughed and put on his hat. “What does it matter?” he said. “Truth is so irrelevant, isn't it? Good day, Darcy.” He touched his cane to the brim of his hat and departed.
Edward Snow arrived sheepishly later in the afternoon. He embraced her for a long time.
“Lemuel told me everything. Awful business. Dreadful. I was in Boston to see your cousin Florence and that new husband of hers. Even though it's the Grace side, I felt I should pay the wedding visitâshe was Amelia's favorite cousin. She was dressed in the most unfortunate shade of green â¦ Oh, Darcy. I had no idea, I should have been hereâ”
“It's all right, Father,” Darcy said, guiding him to a chair. “I'm all right.”
Edward looked around at the parlor. “I haven't been here in so long. It is always so quiet in this house. Do you want to come home with me, Darcy? I would love to have youâI'll play Bach in the evenings on the piano, you know how you love that. It doesn't seem right, your being here.”
“I think it better for the present, Father. It's not that I don't want to be with you. But if you still have dealings with Claude, Iâ”
“He hasn't said anything, yet. I haven't heard a word.” Edward smiled grimly. “He wants me to suffer, waiting and wondering. And I suppose that I am.”
“But surely he can't ruin you. You told me that you'd removed much of your income from his control.”
Edward nodded. “Yes, yes. That's true. He cannot ruin me.” But he didn't meet her eyes.
She had to tell him. It might change their relationship forever, but she had to tell him. “Father, I know that Claude is blackmailing you. I overheard part of your conversation that night. I came back for my gloves, and â¦ I heard. So I understand why you can't take me in, not yet. But, Father, we can find some way to threaten him as well, so that he will never speak such horrors against you, such unspeakable lies. I promise you.”
Edward's face seemed to crumple. His head slowly sank into his hands.
“Father, please. Don't. We can fight him. We can fight the lies.”
The words were muffled, but they were quite clear. “Not â¦” Darcy put a hand over her mouth. “Not lies,” she said, then rubbed her hand against her lips to remove the taste of the words. She looked at her father's soft white hands and felt revolted. She stood up, but she couldn't move a step.
“Darcy,” he said. He was crying. She could hear the tears in his thick voice, the plea. “Please.”
“Please what, Father?” Her voice was calm. Cruel.