Authors: Susannah Bamford
There was a long pause. Darcy smiled sourly as she pictured her husband's expression at the notion of investments being “fun.” “I've heard of Finn,” Claude said, “from other quarters. I must say I feel I should warn you not to do business with him.”
“Really, Claude? I thought him a delightful fellow.”
“Edward, there are few men in New York you do not think of as delightful fellows.”
“Well, perhaps that's true. But Mr. Finn seems so businesslike, as well.”
“Seems so? Edward, I suggest you follow our original plan. The company will be showing great profits this spring, I promise you. I'm in the process of adding some sizable new properties.”
Darcy rotated one foot, which was beginning to sting with pins and needles. Perhaps she should go. The conversation was not very enlightening. So her father was in business with Claude. Although the knowledge had shocked her initially, it made sense to her now. Why shouldn't her father take advantage of her husband's expertise?
Then Claude spoke, and with a beating heart she leaned closer to the door. It was a tone she recognized, and she was shocked to hear him speak to her father with such murderous, icy contempt, the contempt $hat never failed to chill her blood. “Edward, need I tell you the reasons you should follow my advice?”
“Of course not,” Edward said carefully. “You are one of the richest men in New York, and you've gained your fortune yourself, without benefit of blood contactsâ”
“No. That's not what I was referring to, dear father.” Darcy imagined how Edward would disguise his distaste for the affectionate term. But Claude had used it deliberately; he hated any reference to his low birth, even one so gentle as Edward's. She heard the clink of glass, and knew Edward had poured himself another brandy.
“I was referring to a Monsieur Andre Maubert,” Claude said.
The glass hit the table with a clatter. “Who?” Edward asked, his voice desperately trying to convey a naturalness Darcy knew he did not feel.
“Ah, you don't remember. He was the French footman in your house. Your wife was still living with you then. A handsome fellow. He left before she ran away with James Fitzchurch.”
“He found another position, a better one, in Europeâ” Edward blubbered.
“And I've always wondered,” Claude continued, his voice silky now, “whose departure you were mourning when they both left so close to each other. And who you were thinking of when you took to your bed. Servants talk, Edward. It's sad, isn't it? And servants often see things they shouldn't. Like a parlormaid by the name of Annie O'Day. She was fired from this house, of course. She took certain papers with her, letters â¦”
Edward's voice was a whisper. “Claudeâ”
“So tell me, Edward. Do you truly think this investment with Mr. Finn, this continuing association, is good for us?”
“Claude, I beg you â¦”
“Or will you entrust yourself to my hands? The way we always worked together, Edward. From the very day I entered your drawing room and saw your daughter. And you sold her to me.”
A mournful moan, torn from an anguished throat, shuddered through the door. It took several long seconds for Darcy to realize the animal sound had come from her father.
“You are my property, Edward,” Claude said over the sound of brandy slurping into a glass. “Don't forget that.”
The room was so quiet Darcy was certain she heard the brandy being gulped down Edward's throat.
“But come, come, man, don't be distressed,” Claude said in that jovial tone she hated. “We'll be rich, far richer than you ever were, ever dreamed you'd be. And perhaps one day soon I will tell you what you continue to invest in when you invest with me. Yes, I believe I should. Oh, perhaps we should call for more brandy, Edward? You spilled quite a bit.”
Darcy heard the chairs move, someone try to rise. She heard someone stumble: her father. Then she ran on quick and silent feet to the front door. Gasping, almost blinded with the enormity of what she'd heard, she managed to slip out and run down the stairs.
The snow ahead of her was unmarked, gleaming white, sparkling like diamonds all the way to the end of Twenty-eighth Street to Fifth Avenue, all the way to the famous Statton mansion. She shuddered as she looked back at the sickly yellow light from her father's parlor window. She turned her back on it again, swaying with what she'd heard; she couldn't begin to make sense of it. Lies, of course. But that Claude would blackmail Edward with such lies!
“Mrs. Statton?” A form took shape out of the darkness. A hand rested on her arm, a strong hand that held her up with ease. “Forgive me. Your father pointed you out to me at the Academy of Music the other night. I was dining with him this evening. You seem poorly. Let me help you back up the stairs to himâ”
“No!” Darcy tried to take a step backward. The stranger kept his hand on her arm to support her.
“Surely you need to rest a momentâ” He paused and looked at her more closely. She could see in the dull glow of the streetlamp that his light-colored eyes were concerned. Then the expression cleared as he understood. What else could he think, seeing her in this wild condition at her father's house, afraid to see her husband. He knew. She felt his fingers tighten on her arm, but because she was too afraid now of what he knew, she did not withdraw it. He bowed, slightly. “Then allow me to escort you home, Mrs. Statton.”
“That's not necessary.”
“Oh, but I believe it is. If you will not allow me to deliver you to your father, at least let me deliver you to your door. Please,” he said in a warm tone. “You can barely stand, Mrs. Statton.”
Darcy could not make sense of her rushing thoughts. Better to let this man, she could not recall his name, see her home than to risk offending him. She was panting, thanks to her corset and her agitation, and she struggled to control her breathing. If the man chose to talk, she could find herself the topic of the town tomorrow morning. What choice did she have? She must appear normal, she must go with him.
“Thank you, sir.” She took his arm; actually, she was grateful for it, as her legs felt weak. His arm felt like iron underneath her gloved hand as they began to walk toward Fifth Avenue.
“I realize this is not the regular thing to do,” the man said. “But I would like to introduce myself if I am to accompany you.” Darcy inclined her head, and he continued easily. “Tavish Finn, at your service, Mrs. Statton. We are a bit more informal out West, which is why I find I blunder a bit when I return East. I try not to return very often. Then when I do, I wonder how I could stay away. On a fine night such as this, for example. The snow â¦ it softens things, doesn't it? New York then reminds me of London, the city becomes so gray and stately. And New York has this vitalityâsome would say brutalityâthat's bracing. Though I'm partial to a calm life, Mrs. Statton, New York does make the blood run quicker, and that can be invigorating. Though, of course, the wildest place I've been is the Central Park. Excepting Wall Street, of course.” He smiled.
She opened her mouth to murmur a reply, one of the conventional responses she'd been murmuring since she'd been in long dresses,
Yes, Mr. Finn
Do you say so, Mr. Finn
, but he kept on his running commentary, in his slow, strangely accented voice, with its crisp, upper crust British consonants, the soft hint of the slurred vowels of the West, and that odd Irish lilt she was more accustomed to hearing from the maids who did the heavy work in the house. He hailed a cab immediately and helped her inside. He began to talk of the snow, and then the food in New York, and then the fishing prowess of his friend Jamie Alden, and it wasn't boring in the least, it wasn't the endless repetitions of the correct chatter she was used to, and it wasn't as though he was talking to himself, with her only as a captive female audience. It was an oddly personal monologue, as though he had rummaged through his experience like a suitcase and selected with great care the things that would amuse her. And he kept on talking, and the snow fell, and the cab felt snug, and by the time they passed Alva and William K. Vanderbilt's chateau on Fifty-second, she had realized his object. He was sparing her embarrassment and the need for awkward explanations. And somehow, in the long line of gentlemen who had sat next to her at dinner or called in her parlor, all saying the correct things, she thought that he was more of a gentleman than she'd ever met.
But that didn't mean she could trust him, of course. When they stood finally at her front door, their eyes met for the second time. His were pale green, she saw now. They blazed at her with a keenness that made her want to ask him boldly what were the thoughts behind them.
She held out her hand. “I am in your debt, Mr. Finn.”
“You don't have to be. After tonight, I think that we will have never met, Mrs. Statton.”
Startled, she withdrew her hand. His suggestion revolted against years of training. Share a secret meeting? Everything she'd been taught told her that it was wrong, that it would give him an ungentlemanlike hold on her. If they were to meet again in society, he would have knowledge in his eyes, knowledge of her that no one else was privy to: that she was afraid of her husband; that she'd tried to run away. She did not think for one moment that this man had not guessed that. His suggestion told her so.
Darcy stood thinking, staring at her boot tops. He bent his head slightly so his lips were by her ear.
“I can see I am more used to small deceptions than you, Mrs. Statton. That speaks ill of me, I know. But at least you can be secure that your partner in deceit is practiced. And is honorable, as well.” She looked up and caught a twinkle in his eyes. “In his own way.”
This time when she looked at him, she met his gaze squarely, letting him know that she had taken his suggestion. There was no need to let him know that she was afraid of him. “Thank you again, Mr. Finn. Good night.”
“Good night, Mrs. Statton.”
She slipped inside without ringing. Closing the door against the black form on her doorstep, she ran quickly through the dark empty halls to the privacy of her room. She threw off her cloak and sat shaking on the bed. She hoped with all her heart that she would never see Tavish Finn again.
After a moment, she began to methodically strip off her wet garments. She thought of the gleam in Tavish Finn's green eyes, the way he had appraised her. It was strange to think that after a life spent cosseted and secure, surrounded by her own, she was forced to trust a stranger. Her world had once been so circumscribed, so safe. She had stayed married because it was what unhappy wives did, it was something she owed to her family and her tradition, her world of old New York. But that world had changed; Claude Statton had taken it over, just as he had taken over her family, and nothing was the same. It was a world in which her husband could accuse her father of crimes she knew he never could have committed, and her father would bow before him. And now it was a world that fear had entered, and danger. Shivering, Darcy rubbed cold fingers against her skin.
ever been so much of it before, and had it ever been so conspicuously displayed? Certainly not in America. Perhaps only a decadent, luxurious court of Louis XV or the indulgences of Marie Antoinette approached it. And didn't they know it, those millionaires steadily pushing up Fifth Avenue until it was fashionable to live even as far north as Central Park. The style of the day decreed that the more elaborate, the more conspicuous, the better, and so they built bigger and bigger mansions and filled them with the best of plundered Europe. They skipped from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries, loading their rooms with SÃ¨vres porcelain, with Louis-of-whatever-numeral furniture, with Fragonard paintings and Michelangelo drawings and Gobelin tapestries. With commodes and console tables, with bronzes and bergÃ¨res.
There was so much money now, and so much more to be had. And so easily! Railroads and steel and coal and lumber; monopolies and pools and trusts. The Steel Trust. The Cotton Trust. The Whiskey Trust. The Sugar Trust and the Cottonseed Trust and the Linseed Oil Trust. Monopolies meant money; and money meant more money again.
And so the money poured from the hands of the many to the few. No longer did a rich man own a factory, or a business, or a store. Now, rich men owned
No longer did a rich man see the faces of his workers. He saw only the faces of the rich.
And so the money moved. From the plains of the Midwest, from the small cities, from the towns. And as it moved it changed, shrinking down from acres of wheat or blocks of factories to bits of paper that passed from one hand to another. The money moved to New York, to the big-fisted men on Wall Street.
And New York responded with theaters and hotels and balls lavish beyond anything that had ever been seen before. There were more than enough ways to spend money, loads of it. Oh, it was fine! A fine time to be a businessman with nerve. A fine time to be rich.
And at Delmonico's, on a cold, starry evening in February, the social season in full swing, money spilled onto the sidewalks, streaming from carriages like the warm golden light of Delmonico's itself. Satin and lace and fur, white waistcoats, and everywhere diamonds reflecting gaslight and the flickering reflection of thousands of candles and the light of other diamonds around other fair necks. The world had begun to glitter, as hard and brilliant as the new electric light looked next to soft gaslight, and no where did it glitter more brightly than at Delmonico's.
The Van Cormandts were giving a ball, and everyone was there. The fastidious exclusion that Mrs. Astor had practiced was disappearing, almost entirely gone now. Once not long ago her friend Mr. Ward McAllister had decreed that four hundred names were what constituted society, simply because it was the absolute limit of people who would fit into Mrs. Astor's ballroom. But now those New York families rubbed elbows with the newly rich and fashionable who had managed in a few short years to follow the shining example of the Vanderbilts and claw their way to a position in society, simply by spending more money than the old families ever could. It had begun in 1883, when Mrs. Astor had left her card at the residence of Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt, who she had formerly failed to recognize, in order to get the Astors invited to Mrs. Vanderbilt's fancy dress ball. No matter that Mrs. Astor did it for the sake of her daughter Carrie. The Queen had paid her call, after years of snubbing those parvenu Vanderbilts, and the limestone and marble walls came tumbling down.