Authors: Susannah Bamford
No pulse on the thin wrist. The skin felt cold. Darcy dropped it and braced herself against the floor so that she could sit. Her right hand slid in something sticky and wet.
“Dear Lord.” She began to sob with terror. She could not move. She was afraid she would go mad, that she would scream and never stop screaming.
Claude was dead. Suicide, accident? It took several long moments for her to gather her nerve to crawl to the desk to light the lamp. Not too high, she only needed to turn the gas up a bit â¦
The room seemed to spring forward at her. Darcy shrank against the desk, swallowing her involuntary cry. One hand of Claude's was outstretched, the fingers splayed open. He was lying on his belly, but now she could see his face half-turned toward her. One yellow eye stared at her in mild surprise.
Sobbing under her breath now, she crawled back toward him. Blood was on his white shirtfront and pooled underneath his hip. But there was no gun near the outstretched hand or near the body, so how could he have â¦
She sat back abruptly, almost falling. Murder?
If they were indeed bullet wounds, or stab wounds, it would be murder. With a deep shudder, Darcy realized that she would have to turn over the body.
Inching forward on her hands and knees, she told herself over and over not to look at his face. She concentrated on his shoulder, his upper thigh. If she could grasp both of these, she could turn him. Claude was a small man.
She was making odd noises, small but high-pitched, as she tugged. And then suddenly he spun over and came to rest on his back. Both hands were now outstretched in a grotesque parody of the Crucifixion. His mouth was open. His skin looked like wax.
And then her eyes traveled downward and she saw his wound. She crawled to the brass cuspidor by the damask screen and emptied the contents of her belly into it.
Edward watched the storm from his comfortable armchair, a rug over his knees. Although he had exaggerated the extent of his ailment to escape facing his daughter's eyes over the dinner table on Sunday, he was coming down with a cold, and he knew it would be a bad one. Edward hated colds. His great-uncle on his mother's side had died of pneumonia not so long ago. He sneezed, remembering.
The last thing in the world he wanted to do was to go out in that storm. It was a blizzard, a raging, furious, savage tempest of howling winds and bitter cold and blowing icy pellets of snow. But he had to see Darcy. Edward told himself strongly that it was only ten short blocks uptown to Lemuel's. There would be hot tea, maybe even whiskey if the teetotaling Marie wasn't about, for him when he got there.
He had to see his child. He had to tell her he'd been weak, he'd been a coward. But he was no longer afraid. He had gotten courage from a strange source: from Claude.
His son-in-law had called briefly on Sunday not only to repeat his threats of exposure of Edward's secret, but also to hint, ever so delicately, that it was perfectly possible for him to get Darcy committed as insane. He would have no trouble receiving the necessary papers from Dr. Arbuthnot, as well as the sworn statements of the servants who had seen Darcy's condition the week before.
Strangely, Edward had felt relief. His enemy had revealed himself. His enemy had gone too far. And Edward was ready.
For Claude did not know the most important thing: Darcy knew the truth about Edward now. He did not have that to fear, at least. He could run off to Europe as Amelia had done, taking Darcy with him. He'd heard Amelia was happy there. Perhaps he could call on her one last time to settle things between them, to tell her that finally he was able to wish her well.
So things, Edward decided, looking out at the snow, were not so very bad as they appeared. At least he would have the satisfaction of redeeming himself in his daughter's eyes. And at least he could bring Claude down with him.
He knew enough of Claude's operationâthe brothels, the houses of assignation, the society abortionist, Mrs. Usenkoâto bring him down. There was a new mayor in office now, a mayor Claude did not control. Abram Hewitt had been elected on a platform of reform. Edward would go straight to him if he had to.
He got out his fur cap, his heavy overcoat trimmed in lamb's wool. He wrapped a scarf around his face, then unwrapped it and went into the library. He poured himself a large glass of whiskey and drank it standing up. That should help warm him. He drank another half glass, just to be sure.
Edward felt better when he walked out on his stoop. The snow was rather deeper than he'd thought; he couldn't even see the outline of the stairs. He considered them dubiously. A piece of cardboard, blown by the wind, skittered onto the porch, distracting him. Edward pushed at it irritably with his foot, then reconsidered. He picked it up, positioned it on the top step, and sat down on it. He pushed off and went flying down the stairs, holding onto the cardboard and laughing in delight. He rolled off at the bottom, still laughing.
But now that he was out from the partial shelter of the overhang over the front stoop, he felt the full force of the wind, and the laughter was torn from his throat. Edward picked himself up, adjusted his scarf over his face, and told himself he was a strong man who got plenty of exercise. He walked everywhere, he rode his horse in the park twice a week, and last fall he had even purchased a bicycle and rode it in the park on Sundays. He had taken Darcy one Sunday. What fun they had had! But then Claude had forbidden her to go again â¦
He could manage a ten-block walk, gale or no. He headed toward Madison, staggering in the face of the wind.
It was hard going, but he managed it. His thigh muscles ached from pushing through the snow on his street, but Madison was a bit better, the foot traffic having packed down the snow a bit. And it was cheering to see a few other souls about, even if they were barely discernible through the blowing snow. One woman passed him, her face streaked with a horrible gray-green color. Edward began to go after her to see if she was hurt, then realized that the dye was running on her fashionable but soaking-wet hat and veil. It had probably once been emerald velvet, but now looked a sodden bird's nest on top of her head. He continued on.
It was at the corner of Thirty-eighth that it happened. The wind had picked up a signâEdward was able to see it as it flew toward him; M
, it readâand as he watched in amazement, the wooden sign flew like a feather through the air and clouted him on the forehead.
Edward fell awkwardly. He pitched backward, his arms windmilling furiously, and landed in the stairwell leading to the basement of a brownstone. His leg twisted underneath him and caused him sharp pain when he went down. He was grateful at first that there was a soft pile of snow to receive him. But that was before the snow gave way before his pushing hands and he was unable to lift himself out.
Dazed, he watched the snow keep falling. He struggled again, then fell back. His leg ached horribly; what if it were broken? There would be a devil of a time getting to Lemuel's, once someone pulled him out. And damn and blast, he would have to be put up at his former brother-in law's, and that would be deuced awkward. There was no love lost between him and Lemuel. Lemuel had never liked him, no, not from the very beginning, when Edward had first called on beautiful Amelia and stolen her away from that dour household of Graces. Lemuel with his old French books, his French this and his French that, everything so classical, everything perfect. Amelia had been so eager, so hungry for mess, for life spilling over the edges, for jokes, for laughter, for wine and food enjoyed, not in delicate sips, but heartily.
But at least Darcy would be there to smooth things along. That scarecrow of a wife Lemuel had wouldn't be much help.
And so Edward mused about the problems he would have adjusting to the Grace household for a few days, as soon as some nice hearty fellow came along and hauled him out. He began to feel drowsy, and his eyelids began to close. Perhaps they would freeze shut, Edward thought with sudden alarm, for his eyelashes were caked with ice. He struggled to keep them open, but they began to close again.
It was then that it occurred to him that there might not come along a nice hearty fellow to haul him out. Perhaps he would die here, Edward thought. How absurd, to die in a storm a few doors from safety. From his daughter. The lovely, passionate, fierce daughter he had failed time and again. She would never know how he'd found his courage in the end.
Darcy let the curtain fall back again. It was impossible, but the storm seemed even more ferocious. She could not see the street. Only a white, swirling mass.
She turned back again to the desk. It had taken her a long time to compose herself enough to begin her search, but she had, with the help of a strong draft of Claude's whiskey.
However, her efforts had proved futile. Everything suspicious was gone. The extra accounting books were missing. The letters from Dargent were gone, the whole file taken so that her letters from Lemuel and Amelia were gone, too. And there was no letter from Edward to Andre Maubert. Even the cabinet was empty, left open. The only thing left were Claude's records of legitimate stock transactions. Perhaps everything had been burned in the fireplace. Perhaps that had been the smell she'd noted when she'd walked in.
Tavish had told her, his eyes avoiding hers, that his friend had not only been shot, but mutilated. Mutilated, she was sure, in the same way that Claude had been. So whoever had killed Jamie Alden had killed Claude, as well. Dargent. The only person who knew what Dargent looked like was Annie O'Day, and there was no evidence here of her. No record of money passed on, no address. And no letter from Edward to Andre Maubert.
Darcy went to the window again and leaned against the cold glass. Every nerve in her skin screamed escape. She could not bear to remain in the room with Claude's body any longer. But she knew she would not be able to survive the walk back to Lemuel's. Could she spend the night in her room here, knowing Claude's lifeless body was upstairs?
She glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. It was almost teatime. She would have to go downstairs, give some explanation to the servants. Of course they would assume Claude would sleep downtown tonight in a hotel. She was safe for tonight, at least. It would be a sleepless night, to be sure. But tomorrow she would get to Tavish somehow.
Darcy was so absorbed in her thoughts that the rustling noise on the stairs escaped her attention. But she jumped when the door banged open. She whirled around. Solange stood in the doorway. In one swift glance her black eyes took in the scene, then ticked over Darcy's dress. Darcy looked down and realized that her dress was blood-stained, her hem dark with the stuff, as well as her right sleeve. The lace was brown with dried blood. Then Solange's gaze returned to Claude's body. Darcy had covered his face and torso with a blanket, but his thin legs stuck out, his expensive boots shining in the lamplight.
Solange took a step toward Darcy, hate blazing on her thin, white face. “You killed him,” she said.
Solange walked over to stand by Claude's body. She lifted the blanket with a tenderness that gave Darcy an eerie chill.
“Claude,” Solange murmured.
“What did you say?”
Solange replaced the blanket. “We were friends, your husband and I.”
“We talked, often, he sought me out. He consulted me about youâ”
This had to be a dream, a nightmare. “About me?”
“Of course,” Solange said contemptuously. “Who knew you better than I? Your trifling moods and petty concerns. You never helped him! You only set him back.”
“You don't know anything,” Darcy said.
“I know everything,” Solange answered calmly. “Everything. He told me everything. Your inability to bear childrenâhow he wanted them,
Every man needs a son. But you locked your door to himâwhere was he to turn?”
Darcy was fascinated by this glimpse into the soul of the gloomy, taciturn Solange. “To you?”
Solange gave her a scornful look. Her thin face looked very white, very still. “No. He respected me, Madame. And he loved me in his way, I think, because I saw his unhappinessâ”
“And I saw the cause of it. He married a child, not a womanâ”
Darcy began to shake. “Stop this, Solange.”
“A child who did not know how to please him, who locked her door against him.”
“I never locked my door.” Darcy laughed, a high sound. “I was unable to lock my door! He had the key!”
Her words didn't register. Solange went on steadily. “You knew that he could put you in a madhouse for it. And why shouldn't he? Weren't you mad? Didn't you refuse your husbandâyet take a lover? Didn't you attack your husband with a cane?”
“He said that?”
“You were violent, deranged. It was the only course for him. And wasn't it true, for didn't you kill him in the end?” Solange let out a huge, shuddering sob, but her tense face stayed strangely still. Only her lips twisted in agony. “Yes, you killed him! You killed him!” Solange grabbed Darcy's bloodied sleeve.
“And you will pay
Darcy tried to shake off Solange, but the fingers were like talons on her arm. “Solange, listen to me. I did not kill my husband! Tell me, if I killed him, where is the gun?”
She shook her head violently. “You have concealed it. But the police will find it. What does it matter, what does it matter now?”
“This is absurd! I discovered his body, just as you did.”
Solange's face was calm now. It was as though a curtain came down on her grief. The narrow face loomed closer to Darcy, the tiny birdlike eyes opaque. “Then why were you up here so long, Madame? Were you prostrate with grief over his body? Pardon me, but I do not think so, Madame.”