Authors: Susannah Bamford
His fingers plucked at her skirt like a baby's, like a child's. “Please.”
She stood over his chair, waiting. She could make no move to comfort him. She concentrated on standing still, on waiting. Finally, his head still in his hands, he spoke.
“It was so long ago. Nobody knew, nobody.”
“Apparently someone did.”
“The maidâAnnieâshe was in love with him, too.”
In love with him, too
. Darcy felt sick.
“I'm so horribly ashamed,” he said.
“Is that why mother left?” Her voice was cool. How could it be so cool?
“No.” He looked up, his face tear-stained. “I swear to you. She didn't know.”
“How did Claude find Annie? I don't understand. She was dismissed years before.”
“I don't know. Perhaps he met her somewhere else. What does it matter?” He dropped his head again.
“Father, calm yourself. Listen to me. What exactly does Claude have as proof? Do you know? Just Annie's word that she sawâsomething?” Darcy shuddered.
“There was a letter. From me to Andre.”
“You wrote to him?” How insufferably stupid, she thought, looking at her father's head, the hair carefully styled to conceal the thinning at the crown. Lemuel was right. Edward was so weak, so foolish.
“Yes. When he was leaving.”
“Dear God.” Darcy moved back to her chair and sat down. “But how could Claude have gotten the letter?”
“Perhaps Annie found it. That's the only thing I can think of. She could have been in Andre's room, perhaps it was lying about.” Edward gave a strange, twisted smile. “He was a careless man.”
“Dear God.” Claude had the letter, she was sure of it. And he would have no difficulty revealing it, Darcy knew.
As if he'd read her mind, Edward said, “He'll do it, I have no doubt. That is what I'm waiting for. Every day, I expect the word to get out.”
“But, even if it is true, Father,” Darcy said, swallowing hard against the disgust that constricted her throat, “I still believe we can fight him. We can expose his activities. If you only knew how he makes his money nowâ”
He was shaking his head. “But I do know. It is how I make my money, as well.”
Horrified, she stared at him. “You knew all along â¦”
“No!” he said quickly. “No, it was recently that he told meâand he took such pleasure in it. You see, years ago I very obligingly brought other gentlemen into the pool. Friends. Men I've known since I was a boy, men who would not forgive me.”
“Do you mean to tell me,” Darcy said, “that the Old Guard is making their money off brothels and abortionists?”
“They don't know it. But I do.” Edward's face constricted, as though he was in pain. “I've made a mess of it, Darcy.”
“Yes,” she said absently, thinking hard. Layer upon layer, the surfaces of her old life were peeling back. The bright green paper money that paved Fifth Avenue in such springlike profusion was a grassy carpet for secrets and depravities. The Old Guard had to keep up with the swells they scorned, and the blind pool was the way to do it. What did it matter how the money was made, as long as they didn't know the details? It was as clean as the stock market. It had nothing to do with people's lives.
It was the first time she'd seen Columbine angry.
“How can you be so unforgiving, so childish?” Columbine paced in front of Darcy, her silver-willow skirt swishing furiously. “You surely can't turn your back on your father this way. Disgusted, you say you are. Well, I am disgusted with you.”
“He's my father!” Darcy almost shouted. Her throat felt tight with tears at her friend's attack.
Columbine turned and spread out her hands. “Precisely,” she said gently. Relenting, she went and sat beside Darcy. “Perhaps I've seen too much of the world. Perhaps you haven't seen enough. Your father's â¦ inclination is not uncommon. I do not believe it is sinful, either. But whatever you might think, should you not leave such punishment, if there is to be one, to God? You are his daughter, not his confessor.”
“But I cannot think of what he did!”
“Then don't think of itâwhy should you? Think of the consequences now. Could Edward stand to have such a rumor bruited about?”
Darcy shook her head. Tears began to slip down her cheeks.
“He stands beside you for infidelityâno matter how justified you were, Darcy, it
infidelity, we can call it by no other nameâ”
“Love,” she whispered.
Columbine patted her hand. “And your father?” she murmured. “His love may be strange to you, but it is also love, nonetheless, no matter what the world might call it.”
Darcy burst into tears. She felt Columbine press a handkerchief into her hand, and she cried into it, sobbing so violently she was afraid she would not be able to catch her breath. Columbine waited beside her, occasionally murmuring a word or two of comfort.
“What should I do?” Darcy whispered.
“Help your father, or you shall regret it the rest of your life.”
“I shall help him. But I'm not sure how. How I wish I could see Tavish!” Darcy sat up suddenly. “But why shouldn't I see him? Columbine, you could arrange a meeting. If I am to dispense forever with convention, I might as well start now, today.”
Columbine nodded decisively. “Good. I shall arrange it, then. This very evening, if you can get away. IVe been waiting for you to ask.”
Darcy dried her cheeks. “But I thought you felt I shouldn't see Tavish.”
“I never said that. I felt that you should know that such a decision could hurt you. But, Darcy, I only wanted you to make the decision with your eyes open.”
“How splendid it is,” Darcy said seriously, “not to care what people say. However did you learn it?”
Columbine grinned at her. “I was lucky enough to be an outcast, my dear.”
Darcy shuddered. “Once I thought it the severest punishment.”
“It does take awhile to see it as a bit of a blessing,” Columbine said composedly. “But you shall.”
The beautiful day mellowed into an evening that smelled of promise. Darcy headed for Madison Square at dusk to meet Tavish. She felt impossibly hopeful as she started out, despite her worry over Claude's threats and her unsettling meeting with Edward. She would see her father for Sunday dinner the next day and make peace with him then.
She walked over to Fifth Avenue for the horsecar, enjoying her freedom. How marvelous not to have to call for a carriage, to have the household know where she had been and who she had seen!
She left in plenty of time, so she wasn't too worried when traffic inexplicably snarled a few blocks from Twenty-third Street. Darcy decided to walk the rest of the way. It was such a fine evening, and Madison Square was so pleasant, the very heart of fashionable New York.
The sidewalks were crowded with men, women, and children. Perhaps there was some kind of rally at Madison Square, for they were all in high spirits, the children trying to control their skipping steps, the adults indulgently watching them, almost as excited as they. Darcy was tempted to ask what the crowds had come for, but her training still held true; she couldn't ask questions of strangers on the street. She supposed she would find out eventually, and she was too intent on seeing Tavish again to care very much.
She was dismayed when she finally reached the northern corner of Madison Square. The crowds were so thick; how could she ever find Tavish in this throng? Darcy felt ridiculous, personally affronted by the laughing faces pushing close to her, the excited voices, the sparkling eyes. She felt like an uninvited guest at a dinner party, standing in her silks and laces watching everyone else at table eating lobster and drinking champagne.
All because she couldn't ask a question of a stranger. Whatever had happened to that courageous woman, struggling to be born? Darcy shook herself and purposefully turned to the gentleman on her left.
“Excuse me, sir. What is going on?” she ask him. “What is going to happen?”
She need not have worried about strange gentlemen; this man was young, gay, his innocent eyes alight, caught up in his pleasure. “It's old P. T. Barnum himself! It's the circus parade, ma'amâthey're opening on Monday!”
“Thank you, sir.” Darcy pushed ahead through the crowd, heading for the southern end of the square, where she was to meet Tavish. As she grew closer, she could see torches in the street, held by men who would undoubtedly be lighting the parade. The crowds were even thicker here, gaily laughing at the gaudily dressed acrobats who tumbled over one another on Broadway, keeping the crowd amused while they waited for the parade to begin. A chariot full of clowns rolled by, pulled by stolid-looking baby elephants. The clowns' faces were chalk-white, their painted mouths gaping. A cage on wheels rolled behind them, with scrawny monkeys grinning and screeching at her horribly. Following it rolled a cage with one lone wolf, who paced back and forth with menacing grace and eyed her through the bars.
Darcy shivered. She felt bodies pressing against her from behind, and she was suddenly afraid that they would push her into the street, that she would end up sprawled underneath the wheels of the cages. She fought her way back to safety, holding on to her hat. She struggled to breathe slowly and normally, now truly hating the cries of the crowd, the still air, the smell of the animals.
And then he was at her elbow, supporting her, his familiar low lilt of a voice in her ear. “It seems I need to rescue you again, Mrs. Statton.”
She looked up at him and a wave of relief washed over her. It was so very good to see him. “Please, don't call me that. Not anymore.”
“Tavish.” They stood staring at each other, smiling faintly.
“Ah, it's good to see that little face of yours again, it is,” he said. “Come. Let's get away from this madhouse. What a place to pickâleave it to Columbine.”
He took her arm and somehow got them through the crowds, walking quickly down Fifth and then left on Twenty-first Street toward Gramercy Park. It was quieter there, the noise of the parade fading as they walked eastward, and they slowed their steps gratefully.
Under the shelter of trees and gathering darkness, he raised her hand to his lips and kissed it. “How are you?”
“I am well. Rested and well fed, completely recovered, in fact. But I've missed you.”
“And I you.”
“Have you discovered anything further aboutâ”
“Must we speak of it?” He pressed her arm against his side. “I want to hear about you first.”
They walked through the darkness, Darcy's skirt swishing against the sidewalk, and she told him of Edward's confession, her reaction, and Columbine's anger. Tavish listened, not offering a word.
“I suppose I am ashamed of myself,” she said when she'd finished. “But there is a part of me that is still disgusted, Tavish. I can't seem to help it.”
“Of course there is. It is bred in you. But the thing is, Darcy my love, is to look at things the way they are, not through a mirror held up by other people. If you don't, then the world becomes a reflection, a shadow, and you see only what they want you to see. It takes something like this to shatter that. I've known men like your fatherâI went to public school in England, you know. Read your Whitmanâhe speaks of it. Oh, it doesn't disgust me. Men like Claude disgust me.”
“Yes,” she said. “Nothing is as it seems. Even you.”
“Me? And here I thought you could see right through me.”
She did not match his teasing tone. “You aren't working for the government, are you?”
His step faltered, but only a bit. “No.”
“Then who are you, Tavish Finn, and why are you investigating Claude?”
“I'm glad to have a chance to tell you, Darcy,” he said. He tucked her arm more securely into his, and he told her everything he knew and suspected in one circuit of the park.
“Now you know everything I know,” he said at the end.
“You think Claude is the man who killed your friend?” Darcy asked, shivering at the thought.
“I think he might have. But I don't know. I can't place him in San Francisco, though I know he was gone in January.”
“Yes, he was in Boston. I even got letters from him.”
“Ah. Well, then. But letters can be mailed by confederates, too.”
“I see. I cannot see him cold-bloodedly murdering someone, though. Claude is very fastidious, Tavish, even squeamish.”
“You never know what deeds a man can be driven to do,” Tavish said grimly. She didn't like the look in his eye when he said it.
She let a moment pass. “He came to see me this morning.”
“Claude?” Tavish's muscles tightened. “I don't understand. Didn't your uncle forbid him the house?”
“Still, he came. Uncle Lemuel was downtown. I saw Claude. He said that he would prove that you were in league with the railroads, Tavish. That you had sold out your townâhe said he would ruin you.”
“A bluff. What kind of evidence could he have for such lies?”
“Forged evidence. I'm afraid of what he will do, Tavish.”
“Love, don't be.” He paused and tilted her head so that she could see his eyes. “I'm very close to figuring out his game. I tipped my hand, you see, when I arrived that night and gave the name of Dargent. Fd already done it before at aâan establishment he frequents. So he's been running about town trying to cover up his tracks. The only difference now is that he knows I'm the one chasing him, and he knows that I'm trying to link him to Dargent. But he'll make mistakes now.”
Darcy started to walk again, this time with a quicker step. “I know him, Tavish, I know him too well. I wouldn't take his threat lightly. And he doesn't make mistakes.”
“Everyone makes mistakes, Darcy. And I've been up against worse men than Claude Statton.”