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Authors: Susannah Bamford

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BOOK: Blind Trust
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Sixteen

D
ARCY HAD THE
immense good fortune to land at the home of a kind woman. Harriet May Watkins was busy, her small boarding house by the depot continually full of travelers, but she somehow found the time to prepare beef tea and chicken broth and run up and down the stairs to see to Darcy's comfort. She called in a doctor and paid his fee herself until her boarder was able to. And she managed to do all this with a brusque cheerfulness that made Darcy feel safe. After Darcy's fever broke and she lay weak as a kitten in her bed, she grew to look forward to the sound of Mrs. Watkins climbing the stairs, scolding her hired girl over her shoulder as she trudged up with a tray for Darcy.

Then one day Darcy realized that when she sat in the armchair by the window, she did not hear Mrs. Watkins approach. Only if she was in bed, propped up on pillows, could she hear the heavy tread. Sometimes, when lying down on her right side, she didn't even hear Mrs. Watkins knock.

Harriet May Watkins sent for the doctor once more. He pronounced Darcy on the road to recovery, but said that she had sustained a hearing loss in her right ear. She would never hear very well out of it again.

“Well, dearie,” Mrs. Watkins said philosophically after the doctor had gone, “considering the state you were in when they carried you here, I'd say you were lucky.”

Darcy cupped a hand around her right ear. “What was that, Mrs. Watkins?” she asked in a loud tone.

Mrs. Watkins blanched. Darcy grinned to show she'd been joking, and they laughed heartily together. “Yes, Mrs. Watkins,” Darcy agreed, “I would say that I'm very lucky indeed.”

The next day Darcy decided she was ready to leave. True, she weaved a bit when she was dressing, and she was still weak, but she had no time to lose. With every passing day, Anne Hinkle could move on and disappear forever.

Mrs. Watkins came upstairs with the morning tray and shook her head when she saw Darcy dressed and half-packed.

“It's pure folly, Miss Snow. The doctor told you to rest up the whole week. Do you want to get sick again?”

“Mrs. Watkins, I can sit up on a train just as easily as I can sit up in the armchair.”

“That's a fool thing to say. As if a foul, filthy train is as pleasant as a seat by the window watching the birds. And weren't you sitting on a train when you took ill before?”

“Yes, but I had come through a blizzard.”

“And now you've come through nearly dying.” Mrs. Watkins crashed the tray down on the table. “I never heard such a fool thing in my life.”

She stalked out. Darcy sighed, finished packing, and then went over to her breakfast. A bit lightheaded, she had to sit down on the armchair to rest. She reached over and plucked a piece of ham off her plate and ate it with her fingers.

The door banged open, and she dropped the ham. Mrs. Watkins poked her head in, smirking at her triumphantly. “Now we'll see if you'll be leaving,” she said.

Darcy stood up, wiping her fingers on her napkin. “Whatever do you mean, Mrs. Watkins?”

“Your husband is here, Miss Snow. Now, we'll see if he—” Mrs. Watkins stopped abruptly, stricken. For her favorite guest has just keeled over in a dead faint.

Darcy opened her eyes and looked into a pair of green nes.

“My Lord,” she murmured.

“Yes, that's right, it's your husband, my dear. I've come to say I'm sorry, and to take you back home.”

“Sorry?” Darcy murmured. “Home?”

“Yes, dearest.” Tavish turned to Mrs. Watkins. “It was such a silly quarrel, really. But I'll make it up, I swear, or my name's not Egbert Snow.”

Darcy's head whirled. “Egbert?”

“Oh, it's all my fault she went down like that, Mr. Snow,” Mrs. Watkins said. “I let the information out, quick as you please. I feel a fool.”

“Nonsense, Mrs. Watkins. How were you to know?” Gently, Tavish eased his arm around Darcy's shoulders. “Can you sit up, dear?”

“I think so.” The miasma in her head was clearing. How could Tavish have found her? Why had he said he was her husband? And why Egbert?

“Let me help you to the bed.” He supported her as she crossed the room, then helped ease her down. Perching on the edge of the bed, he fussed with her pillow.

“You devil,” she said softly. “How did you find me?”

“I was a Pinkerton once, remember?” he said in a low tone, his eyes twinkling. Then in a louder voice for Mrs. Watkins's benefit, he said, “I couldn't rest until I did.”

Darcy noticed that something was different. Tavish's front tooth had a substantial chip in it. “Your tooth …”

Tavish patted her shoulder. “Now, my dearest, there's no need to bring that up. I forgive you. You just didn't realize how good your aim is. I should send you to the New York Metropolitans! Excepting the fact that they'd have to give you a kerosene lamp to pitch instead of a ball they'd welcome you, I'm sure.”

Mrs. Watkins stifled a laugh, enjoying this new insight into the mild Mrs. Snow's temper.

Darcy narrowed her eyes at Tavish. He smiled at her innocently, and she sniffed and reached for her handkerchief. “You were very cruel,” she said. “I don't know if I can forgive you. Really, Egbert—a dancer!”

Tavish gulped, but recovered. He put a hand on his heart. “I was never untrue to you, my darling.”

“And does that go for that petite member of the Lilly Lamour Blondes, as well?” Hidden from Mrs. Watkins's view, Darcy grinned at Tavish.

Mrs. Watkins cleared her throat. “Well, I can see you two have a great deal to talk about,” she said. “So Fll be going downstairs.”

Mrs. Watkins closed the door behind her. She heard a shriek, a thump, and a tinkle, as though a pillow had sailed through the air and knocked over her glass bottle of water from Lake Windermere on the way to the floor. She paused long enough to hear the sounds of muffled laughter. Apparently, the handsome couple, so obviously in love, was making up after all. Smiling broadly, she continued down the stairs.

After the initial rush of elation, Darcy found herself exceedingly annoyed. Tavish refused to budge from Mrs. Watkins's boarding house. No amount of threats or stubborn refusals could move him. They would stay, Tavish insisted, for two days. They could manage that. He would nurse her for that time, and if she wasn't stronger, they would stay another day. After he heard more details of her illness from Mrs. Watkins, he would brook no argument on the subject.

Darcy resisted stubbornly. But when she asked about her father and he told her, reluctantly, what had happened, she succumbed. She collapsed in bed and cried steadily for hours. Tavish didn't leave the room. He held her and rocked her, and when she turned away in her anguish he let her grieve, but sat nearby. He held Mrs. Watkins at bay by slipping downstairs for a tea tray. He sat up and watched Darcy drop off into exhausted sleep, and he was up early the next day to get a breakfast tray from Mrs. Watkins. He brought it upstairs himself and urged her to eat something.

Darcy stirred her coffee. Her face felt taut, her eyelids puffy. “I was so cruel to him that last day,” she said. “I can't stop thinking of that.”

“Hearing the truth about him was a great shock. Of course he understood that.”

She raised her bleak eyes to his. Her lips trembled. “How can I know that?”

“He was coming to see you that last day,” Tavish said. “Of course he understood.”

“They say that freezing to death is like falling asleep. They say you feel wonderfully warm at the end, content and drowsy.”

“Yes. I'm sure it was like that for Edward.” He hadn't told her about the broken ankle, the bump on the head. He didn't want her to think of him suffering.

A painful sob was torn from her. “I failed him!” she cried. “I failed him, Tavish, and he's dead. My father is dead!” The hurt was so deep and wide that it filled her belly and choked her throat.

“Darcy, my own love,” he said, coming to sit on the edge of the bed and taking her hand, “it seems to me that your history with your father is one of struggle and forgiveness. Your mother's departure, Edward's financial ruin, your marriage, Claude's treatment of you—all of those things caused you and your father pain. Perhaps Edward let you down when he allowed you to marry Claude, or when he asked you to stay in the marriage after you had decided to escape. Perhaps you let him down when he told you the truth about Andre Maubert. What does it matter, dear? You both loved. You both came to each other in times of trouble. You both struggled for each other, you both continued to fight for each other and forgive each other.” He touched her cheek. “He knew that.”

“Do you really think so?” she whispered.

“Yes, I do.”

Tears began to slip down her face again. “I don't know how to go on.”

“You'll go on with me.”

For the first time in days she smiled. “Yes. I'll go on with you.”

They spent the day in Mrs. Watkins's comfortable front parlor, Darcy well-wrapped and not permitted to fetch so much as extra milk for her tea. “The first rule of adventure,” Tavish instructed her, smiling over his copy of
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
, “is to take comfort when you can. I never thought I'd find such excellent cooking in a depot boarding house.”

Darcy smiled wanly at him. “Voluptuary.”

“Precisely. Will you pass me another turnover, please? Thank you.”

They ate supper with the rest of the guests. A red-faced lawyer dominated the conversation with his tales of what he'd seen and done out West. As a representative of various railroad companies, he claimed he had been instrumental in challenging many of the Grange laws back in the seventies.

Tavish was hard put to keep his tongue. After working as a guard for different railroads laying tracks, and later as a Pinkerton guarding shipments, he'd seen the way the railroads were squeezing out the farmers and turning thriving towns into empty storefronts and rolling tumbleweed. He'd worked hard for the passage of laws to end practices such as charging more for a short haul than a long one, or giving rate breaks to large monopolies. He hated the kind of lawyer that would search for loopholes in a law designed to help the common man; he despised the kind of railroad company that would penalize a region known for Grange activity by bypassing its towns, leaving passengers and freight high and dry.

By dessert, the lawyer was ponderously informing the table that the Supreme Court had made an excellent decision the year previous when it declared no state could regulate the railroads, since the railroad crossed state lines. Thus, the Interstate Commerce Commission was formed, and the railroads relaxed, for it satisfied the country and was ineffectual in controlling the rapaciousness of the railroad magnates. Someday, Tavish thought gloomily, the United States would pay for not regarding its railroads as a public service as well as a profit-making industry to be plundered.

“I knew them all, all the Granger leaders,” the lawyer was saying expansively as he sipped his coffee. “Communistic anarchists, the lot of them.”

Tavish couldn't stop himself. “I don't quite see the two philosophies as compatible,” he said, his dry tone barely concealing his irritation.

“Mr. Huntington himself called them communists, sir,” the lawyer replied huffily. “And I've seen them, I know it. There was one Granger, he made a legend of himself when he left the railroad and joined up. He'd been a hired gun, like Bat Masterson or such, protecting the railroads, made a name for himself there. But he up and quits one day, joins the Grange. He wasn't a farmer, either, so he must have been an anarchist. He was a foreigner, too. Name of Finn. Some folks, they think him a hero, a legend of some kind, trying to save the towns and the farmers. But I heard he was involved in Haymarket, even. He—”

“May I have just a bit more of your delicious rice pudding, Mrs. Watkins?” Tavish asked smoothly. Darcy shot him a look, which he ignored.

Darcy smiled to herself. So Tavish Finn was a folk hero. Were there more surprises in store for her from this enigmatic man with the quicksilver tongue?

She sought him out in the parlor after supper. Reaching for a book on a shelf, she faced him and raised her eyebrows.

“Haymarket?” she asked softly. Despite his fiery nature and populist sympathies, she found it difficult to believe that Tavish would be involved in that notorious anarchist bombing in Chicago.

He shook his head. “Can't take credit for that one. I was in Solace by that time—so I'm most likely about as guilty as those they sentenced to hang. I wasn't an anarchist, anyway. I leave that kind of politics to my sister. Columbine was the one who marched to free those poor souls at that travesty of a trial.”

“But you were known around the West?”

He smiled sourly. “Inflated rumors and tall tales made me popular for a time. Most of the stories weren't true. I had a notion the Grange itself created the legend to further their cause. Can't prove it, though.”

BOOK: Blind Trust
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