Authors: Susannah Bamford
“Father, please, I am talking about something greater than the troubles a man and a wife can have. Claude Statton is â¦ he is not an ordinary man.”
“Of course he is not! He is the most astute businessman in this city! And the most feared, I might add, perhaps even more than Jay Gould, these days.”
“What are you saying to me, Father?” she asked quietly. “That I should return to Claude Statton because he is the most feared man in New York?”
“I am saying, daughter, that your duty is to your husband. As you know.” Edward could not bear to look at her when he spoke, and he was grateful for the diversion of the fire. He knew very well what kind of man Claude Statton was. But Darcy was Claude's wife, after all! The house she lived in, her clothes, her carriages, the Newport cottage, the famous mansion on Fifthâit was all as right as it could be. Could she not settle for what she had? Was she yearning now for the romance she'd been denied, like an innocent, silly girl?
He heard her words rise from the armchair with a deadly, tired resignation that chilled his blood. “I expected certain â¦ realities in marriage, Father. I thought I married Claude Statton with open eyes. But I didn't realize â¦ It is as though he married me, hating me, and then deliberately set out to destroy me. I am ground under his heel, and he enjoys seeing me there. How am I to continue to live with him, to sit at his table, to run his house? To live through the days of that hell? And,” she said, choking on the word, “the
“Darcy, we must not talk of such things,” he muttered.
“I'm sorry, Father. But you must understand. There is something lacking in him, something essential, decency, or honor. I have no choice. I must leave him, I have already been corruptedâ” Darcy choked with her emotion, then looked down in her lap to compose herself. “I'm afraid of what will happen to me if I stay.”
Edward used his last piece of ammunition. He did it deliberately; he feared no man like he feared Claude Statton. “And so you disgrace us. Just as your mother did.”
Tears spurted to her eyes. “Please,” she begged. “Please don't. I cannot bear it.” He only looked away at the fire, frowning. Darcy continued to cry silently. She knew her father disapproved, he had always hated her tears, but now that she'd started she could not stop. “I've given him what he wanted. He is accepted in society, even Mrs. Astor leaves her card at our house. Why can't I leave him?”
“Because Mrs. Astor will no longer leave her card.” Edward stared stonily at the fire. He gave a quick glance over his shoulder, and what he saw on her face made him snap his head forward to the fire again. How he hated her tears, how he had always hated them, even while loving her, relying on her. Her gray eyes turned dark, her lashes spiky and wet, and even as she cried her chin would be set at a stubborn angle, hating her weakness as much as he. She looked so much like Amelia he had to turn away. Edward thought of Amelia, of her leaving, of how Darcy had been the one to save them all. And now he was standing with his back to his little girl as she cried her heart out.
Blindly, he reached behind him and sank into an armchair. “Oh, Darcy,” he said softly. “We have been through so much, you and I.”
Darcy stirred. It was the only apology he could give, but it was something. Something was there, something that she could use to move him. Guilt or love, did it matter? Pushing away the rug impatiently, almost tripping on it, she left her chair and crossed to him. Before him, she sank to her knees. She bowed her head and rested it against him.
He put his hand on top of her head. She felt his fingers trembling. “You did not have a mother to advise you before your marriage. Perhaps if you talked to Aunt Catherine, or even Adelleâ”
She gripped his soft wool coat with her hands. She shook her head. She knew her father did not wish to hear, but she choked the words out. “I cannot speak of such things to anyone. Not even Adelle. He is not a gentleman, sir.”
He'd known, Edward thought desperately, he'd always known and he'd pushed it away. He'd seen the look in Claude's eyes in the beginning, how he'd watched Darcy with a possessiveness that was mixed with scorn. It was as though he needed the scorn, fed the scorn, which in turn fed the desire. And Edward had given his daughter to that man.
His fingers curled and uncurled spasmodically, and he forced himself to stroke her soft, dark hair gently. “Oh, my darling child,” he whispered. He bent over her. “My Darcy. What I have wrought?”
She raised her head. “No, Father. I married him.” She sought his gaze. She spoke firmly. “Now you must help me leave him.”
She gazed at his mouth, desperate to see the words form, the words that would accept her flight and free her from her husband. “I cannot help you,” he said.
Darcy pushed herself up from the floor. She looked down at him. Her extraordinary gray eyes were pale now, chips of winter ice. “You refuse to take me in?”
Edward spread his hands. “No. I do not refuse. I cannot.”
She turned, her skirts swirling, and ran for the door. “Where is my cloak? I'll go to Aunt Catherineâ”
“She cannot protect you!”
go!” Darcy screamed, whirling around again to face him. “I cannot return to that house. I cannot return to that man! I'll go to the streets, if I must. Where is my cloak?” she asked frantically.
Edward crossed the room swiftly. He reached for her hands, but she tore them away. “Listen to me!” he commanded softly. “Listen!”
Darcy twisted wildly back and forth. “I must go,” she repeated. “I must go. There is no help for me here. Oh, God, there is no help for me anywhere.”
Edward fought to calm her, desperate now that Claude would overhear. “I will help you! Listen to me. I will help you!”
Darcy quieted. She turned halfway, but she wouldn't look at his face. She waited.
“You're my daughter,” he said gently. “Of course I will help you. But it's too soon,” he went on rapidly when she looked up, hope in her face at last. “My finances are so entwined with Claude Statton's thatâ”
Disgusted, she tore away from him. She stood with her back to him.
“My finances,” he went on quietly, “have been entwined with your husband's from the year you were married.”
She half turned. “What do you mean?”
“Come, Darcy. Surely that can't surprise you. He delivered me from bankruptcy. He restored our family name and our family pride.”
“Ah, yes,” Darcy said mockingly. “Our family pride. Do you imagine that having made my bargain with the devil I would forget its terms?”
“And do you imagine that, having made my terrible bargain, all our business together would cease? How do you think I saved this house, how do you think Aunt Catherine and Adelle continue to live as they do?” Edward spoke desperately, almost angrily.
“There's no hope for me, then.” Darcy's voice was dead.
“Yes, there is hope.
But not today.
Or tomorrow, or next week. But next month, perhaps. Most likely a bit longer. I am trying to disentangle myself from the web. I have enough now, I think, in my own right, to do so. I have, slowly, over a period of years, protected my interests. I have withdrawn my money from his companies, from stocks he suggested, bit by bit. I've put money in real estate, which he cannot touch. I don't think he can ruin me. But I do not underestimate him, not for a moment. There is one deal I must do. I must! You must trust me on this. A man called Tavish Finnâ”
She shook her head. “Another deal, another man! No, Father. Not again.”
“No, no, this is certain, this is sure. He has a scheme, a business scheme, he will let me in on. And when this one last deal is completed I shall be done with Claude. And so, Darcy will you.”
Darcy took Edward's arm and pressed it to her side. “Father,” she said softly, “I have lived with riches beyond my imagining for five years. I could send it all to hell with a flick of my finger without a single regret. We've lived in poverty before. I managed our household well, did I not?”
“You don't understand, Darcy. There would be nothing. Disgrace and ruin for me, no house for you to come toâ”
“We could live in Europe.” She had to say it, knowing the pain it would cause him. “There are many places we could go,” she said softly. “We don't have to live in Paris, Father. Uncle Lemuel has business interests in London. Perhaps he could help us. He is back and forth so often, surely heâ”
“Amelia's brother help me? I hardly think so.”
“But he would help me, Father.”
He squeezed her hand. “And what of Aunt Catherine and Adelle?” he asked. “Without me, they would be vulnerable. And Claude would make them suffer if we left. It would please him to do so, I think.”
Darcy fell silent. Edward was right. Her great-aunt and cousin were totally dependent on her father. They had lost their small fortunes due to his bad management, and her marriage to Claude had allowed him to rescue them from the genteel poverty he'd forced them into.
“If you could wait a month or two. No more,” he added quickly when she stirred uneasily. “I promise you. Then we can arrange it. We can
. You can come to me, and we can leave immediately for Europe. We can stay away as long as you like. But we will leave ourselves and our family protected when we go. The spring, Darcy. Can you wait until the spring?”
her spirit cried.
Not for one more second can I endure it!
But she looked into his eyes, the faded blue-gray she loved, and she sighed. She saw how much he wanted her to trust him, how afraid he was that she would not, because he did not deserve it. This business scheme could be like so many others and fail. But how could she crush his spirit now, when he needed her faith? No one knew better than she how fragile her father really was. And they had no one but each other.
She leaned against his shoulder and smelled the comforting scent of the cologne in his beard. “I'll wait,” she said.
He held her to him. “May God forgive me for sending you back there,” he whispered.
“May God forgive us both,” Darcy replied softly.
“Now you must go,” Edward said. “Quickly.
He must not suspect, Darcy.
Darcy drew her cloak around her. She pulled up the hood lined in sable and thrust her hands in her muff.
“I'll find a cab for you,” Edward said.
“No. It's not necessary. It's not too late.”
She followed him downstairs. He seemed impatient now, wanting to have her gone. Just the fact that he agreed to let her go alone told her that. When they reached the downstairs hall, he kissed her quietly, and she went out.
It wasn't until she reached the bottom of the stairs that she realized she'd forgotten her gloves. It was bitter cold, and she had far to go. Darcy turned and ran quickly up the stairs. She decided not to ring.
When she entered the front hall, she heard footsteps heading from the dining room to the front parlor. Instinctively, she melted back into the small sitting room that had been her mother's.
“Edward, you are deep. So you have a secret in your lifeâa mystery caller.”
Darcy pressed a hand to her mouth. Claude! Why didn't her father tell her he was downstairs? Her heart pounding, she retreated farther into the sitting room.
“Hardly a mystery,” Edward said uneasily. “But a man must be circumspect.”
Claude gave the strangled chortle that was his version of a laugh.
“I'm sorry to have to leave you, gentlemen.” It was the voice of a stranger, an odd accent Darcy couldn't place. It seemed British, but the tone was softer. There was the hint of lilt to it. “But I have that engagement, as I told you.”
“Of course, Mr. Finn,” Claude said silkily. “We quite understand.”
“Good night, Finn,” Edward said jovially. “So good of you to join us at such short notice.”
Darcy heard the sounds of the stranger leaving, the front door closing, and then Claude and Edward passing into the front parlor, the room adjoining the one in which she stood. She wondered frantically what to do. She couldn't leave now; Edward's guest might see her. And then she heard the muffled sound of Claude's voice. Darcy drifted closer to the heavy hangings on one wall of the sitting room.
Her mother had created the sitting room by dividing the long front parlor into two rooms. She'd simply closed the French doors and had them nailed shut, then hung heavy curtains in both rooms, disguising the fact that the doors were there. Her father had grumbled that his front parlor had been cut in half, but Amelia hadn't cared. She'd needed a small room to sit for her portrait by Fitzchurch, she said, and Edward rarely interfered with her domestic arrangements. Of course, they should have known that she had done it in order to receive James Fitzchurch in privacy. But they had been blind about so many things then.
Now, standing in the middle of the room Amelia had created to receive her lover, Darcy felt the same impulse to intrigue. She knew that if she moved the heavy curtain very quietly and put her ear against the crack, she would be able to hear her father's discussion with Claude. Especially if they sat in the armchairs by the fire. They would be drinking their second brandy and enjoying their second cigar; they would be relaxed. Temptation battled with her better instincts, and temptation won. Why had they concealed from her the fact that they were dining together?
She heard Claude's voice, muffled to be sure, but recognizable. Darcy moved swiftly to the heavy velvet hangings. Gently, she pushed it aside and leaned forward to the door.
“So you don't wish to reinvest in the pool,” Claude said. “You'll take all the dividend for your own purposes. Your tailor's bill must be particularly high, Edward.”
“As I told you, Claude, it's just something I want to invest in with this fellow Finn. The trouble with a blind pool is that you don't have the fun of knowing what your money is invested in.”