Authors: Anna Godbersen
A Luxe NovelAnna Godbersen
For Jake and NickContents
IT HAS BECOME ALMOST REGULAR FOR THE LOWER classes of…
“EXCUSE ME, MISS, BUT IS IT REALLY YOU?”
THE MAUVE, LEAFLESS BRANCHES OF TREES ROTATED at a giddy…
THE GOLDEN GRASSY FIELD LAY AHEAD, PLAYING tricks on the…
HENRY SCHOONMAKER STOOD AT THE INTERSECTION of two pinched little…
LINA BROUD TURNED HERSELF ROUND AND ROUND, overcome with a…
THERE WERE ONLY A FEW THINGS IN THE LITTLE cabin…
“YOU DON’T JUST THROW A PERSON THROUGH A crack in…
HENRY HAD WATCHED DIANA’S STUBBORN LITTLE walk as she went…
“WAS THAT FOR ME?” PENELOPE WHISPERED. SHE didn’t waste time…
“AND WHO IS THIS?”
DIANA WOKE ON THE MORNING FOLLOWING THE opera with the…
THE DINNER ELIZABETH SERVED THAT NIGHT would be far superior…
“AT LEAST YOU LOOK VERY WELL,” AGNES JONES said, with…
LINA SHOULD HAVE KNOWN THAT THE ADVENT OF her first…
THE SECOND MRS. SCHOONMAKER WAS KNOWN not only for her…
“ARE YOU ENJOYING YOURSELF, MISS HOLLAND?”
THEY’D WOKEN UP IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE—well, in an…
“WHERE ARE YOU GOING?”
“DID YOU NOTICE SOMETHING DIFFERENT?” ISABELLE whispered to Penelope, seated…
OUTSIDE OF THE SCHOONMAKERS’ FIFTH AVENUE mansion it had begun…
WHEN DIANA ENTERED HER FAMILY DRAWING ROOM late on a…
THE ROCKING OF A TRAIN WAS EVIDENTLY SOMETHING that calmed…
AFTER THE CRUSHING VISIT WITH PENELOPE Hayes, Lina had hardly…
THE WHISTLE BLEW, AND LOUD SHOUTS OF “ALL aboard!” could…
“WHO IS THE NOTE FROM?”
HENRY CROSSED HIS LEGS AND SHIFTED IN THE wooden rocker…
“MISS BROAD, HOW LUCKY CAREY FOUND YOU!” Lucy Carr, the…
SATURDAY WAS THE DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS EVE, and it passed…
“LADIES USUALLY DO NOT BELIEVE ME, BUT THE Yukon can…
LINA WALKED BETWEEN THE WHITE AND BROWN patches of lawn…
THE VANITY MIRROR IN DIANA HOLLAND’S BEDROOM, with its oval…
HENRY WAS A REMARKABLY WELL-FED BACHELOR, and it had been…
PENELOPE CROSSED THE THRESHOLD OF THE Schoonmaker ballroom with all…
THE GIRL WHO RETURNED TO THE MAIN SCHOONMAKER ballroom was…
THE MANHATTAN THAT ELIZABETH STEPPED BACK into could not have…
BY MIDNIGHT ON CHRISTMAS EVE HENRY WAS entirely sick of…
IT HAD NOT BEEN THE TRADITION OF THE GAN-SEVOORTS to…
THE SILENCE MIGHT HAVE LASTED HOURS, ALTHOUGH it was difficult…
“I’D LIKE A DOZEN WHITE ROSES, A DOZEN WHITE freesias…
DEPARTMENT STORES NO LONGER LOOKED THE same to Carolina. She…
“IF ANYONE KNOWS ANY REASON WHY THIS MAN AND woman…
THE HALLS OF THE HAYES MANSION ECHOED AS Penelope ran…
HENRY DID NOT LOOK TO SEE THE CITY GO BY…
AT GRAND CENTRAL THERE WAS AN AIR OF motion and…
BY SUNDAY PENELOPE’S BODY WAS SO RIGID WITH expectation that…
IT WAS WELL PAST MIDNIGHT—THE NEW YEAR HAD come, and…
About the Author
About the PublisherPrologue
I have just been invited to a most secretive, but assuredly most elaborate, celebration in Tuxedo Park sponsored by one of Manhattan’s finest families. I have been sworn to secrecy for the time being, but I promise my loyal readers that I will report all when the week is over and the general word is out….
—FROM THE “GAMESOME GALLANT” COLUMN IN THENEW YORK IMPERIAL, SUNDAY, DECEMBER31, 1899
IT HAS BECOME ALMOST REGULAR FOR THE LOWERclasses of New York to catch glimpses of our native aristocracy in her city streets, tripping in for breakfast at Sherry’s after one of their epic parties, or perhaps racing sleighs in the Central Park, that great democratic meeting place. But here in the country it is different. Here the rich do not have to suffer the indignity of being spied upon by a thousand eyes. Here in the snowy hills forty miles northwest of Manhattan, whatever business deal, whatever hustle, whatever random act of violence is being done back in the city, cannot touch them. For they and they alone are allowed in.
In those final, frigid days of the year 1899, the beau monde had escaped the city quietly, in small groups, according to the instructions of their hosts. By the eve of the New Year the last of them had arrived by special train to Tuxedo Park, disembarking at the private club’s private station. There had been special trains all afternoon: one bearing orchids, another caviar and game, another cases of Ruinart champagne. Andnow came Schermerhorns and Schuylers, Vanderbilts and Joneses. They were greeted by coaches newly painted in the Tuxedo colors of green and gold and decorated with commemorative silver bells from Tiffany & Co., and whisked across the freshly fallen snow to the ballroom where the wedding would take place.
Those who had their own self-consciously rustic residences there—one of those shingled cottages, say, with touches of moss and lichen—went off to freshen up. The ladies had brought their historic jewels, diamond-tipped aigrettes for their hair, silk gloves. They had packed their newest and best dresses, although there were several despairing of being seen in gowns they had already been described as wearing over the course of what had been a rather unhappy season. The city’s most charmed socialite, Miss Elizabeth Holland, had met with a watery end right in the middle of it, and nobody had felt comfortable acting joyful since. The best people had been sitting around waiting for January, when they might finally escape for cruises in the Mediterranean and other points east. Now, so near New Year’s, with a blessed but unexpected fete on the horizon, the mood seemed likely to pick up again. One or two of the women mentioned, in low tones, as they dabbed perfume behind their ears, that the bride was reported to be wearing her mother’s dress in the ceremony, which would add a touch of humility to the proceedings. But then, that was a sweet tradition and did not excuse any lack of modishness on the part of the guests.
Already they were being ushered, by liveried footmen, to the ballroom at the club’s main building. They were being served hot spiced punch in little cut-crystal cups, and remarking how transformed the ballroom of Tuxedo was.
Down the middle of its famed parquet dance floor was an aisle, delineated with white rose petals, several inches deep. Bridal arches wrapped in chrysanthemums and lilies of the valley dominated the center of the room. As the guests began to file in, they whispered of the exquisiteness of the display and the high caliber of guests who had made sure of attending, even at such short notice, for the invitations had arrived only a few days before by hand delivery. There was Mrs. Astor, behind her dark veil, present despite the ill health that had kept her in for much of the season and prompted rumors that she was ready to abdicate her throne as queen of New York society. She rested on the arm of Harry Lehr, that winning bachelor, so often spoken of for his flare in leading cotillions and issuing bons mots.
There were the William Schoonmakers making their way to the front row, young Mrs. Schoonmaker—she was the second lady to wear that honorific—blowing kisses and adjusting her blond curls and ruby tiara all the way. There were the Frank Cuttings, whose only son, Edward “Teddy”Cutting, was known to be such good friends with William’s son, Henry Schoonmaker, although since mid-December the two had been seen out together only a few times. There were Cornelius “Neily” Vanderbilt III and his wife, née Grace Wilson, who as a debutante was considered too “fast” and had nearly caused her husband to be disinherited. She looked regal now, in lace-trimmed velvet panne, her auburn hair done up in elaborate curls, as much a Vanderbilt as anyone. But for all the well-born people taking their seats there were several who were notably absent. For amongst those hundred or so guests—a far more selective list than the four hundred allowed into old Mrs. Astor’s ballroom—there was one great family unrepresented.
This omission was to many strange and, beneath the gentle string music that announced how very soon the ceremony would begin, one or two of the guests whispered about the absence. Meanwhile, the wind whistled around the building. The icicles hanging from the eaves glittered. The last guests to arrive were urged to take their seats, and then a set of groomsmen in black tails—not the shorn dinner jackets that were the namesake of the resort—moved purposefully to their places.
The last of them, Teddy Cutting, cast a glance back to be sure his friend was ready. As the music rose, the crowd nodded approvingly at the sight of Henry Schoonmaker, his dark hairslicked to the side and his handsome face imbued with a new maturity, taking his place at the altar. Was that a touch of nervousness in his famously rakish features? Was it excitement or was it trepidation? Then he, and indeed every set of eyes in the room, looked down the aisle, where the loveliest debutantes of New York, dressed in glacier blue chiffon, began to emerge. They moved in a slow march, one by one, across the little mountain of rose petals toward the front of the ballroom, trying as best they could to put away their girlish smiles.
When the opening strains of Wagner’s processional played, the sylphlike bride appeared in the frame of the first flower-laden arch. The beauty of that girl was remarkable even to her family and friends murmuring in their seats. She was dressed in her mother’s bridal lace, and a massive bouquet of frothy whites tumbled from her clasped hands. Her emotions were obscured by her ornate veil, but she moved forward to the altar with a steady purpose.
It was just as she took her place across from Henry that the door swung open and a young member of the staff appeared, breathless, and whispered into the ear of the woman stationed at the entrance. A cold rush of air was followed by a quiet gasp and then an almost inaudible murmur. The intermittent whispers that had begun before the ceremony doubled, then tripled, and now created a low hum in the room even as the reverend cleared his throat and began the ceremony. Thegroom’s dark eyes roamed across the room. Even the bride stiffened.
The reverend’s voice droned insistently on, but the faces of the assembled no longer seemed quite so placid or joyous. A growing discomfort had reached the privileged class even here, where it was warmly ensconced in its winter palace, even on the titillating verge of celebrating the union of two of its brightest members. The eyebrows of the guests were raised; their mouths were open. It was as though, suddenly, the wilds of that city that they’d left behind were not so very far away, after all. Something had happened, and it would forever alter how they remembered the last days of 1899.
It has been a dreary few months in New York, given the death of Miss Elizabeth Holland—who was one of society’s favorites—and the blizzard that arrived in late November and left the city blanketed for days. But elegant New York has not given up hope for a fine winter season of evenings at the opera and gay cotillions. And our eye has more than once been caught by the newly ladylike comportment of Miss Penelope Hayes, who was the best friend of Miss Holland during her short life. Could Miss Hayes inherit her mantle of impeccable decorum and congeniality?
—FROMCITÉ CHATTER, FRIDAY, DECEMBER15, 1899
“EXCUSE ME, MISS, BUT IS IT REALLY YOU?”
The day was clear and bracingly cold, and as Penelope Hayes turned slowly to her left, where the crowd had massed along the narrow cobblestone street, she exhaled a visible cloud of warm breath. She focused her large lake-blue eyes on the eager face of a girl who could not have been much older than fourteen. She must have emerged from one of those tenement buildings, which rose shoulder to shoulder, at imprecise angles, behind the masses of people. A jungle of black wires was strung from their rooftops, cutting ribbons out of the sky. The girl wore a black coat that had turned almost gray with wear, and her already pinkish complexion had gone patchy red in the cold. Penelope met her eyes and spread her plush lips into their warmest smile.
“Why, yes.” She drew herself up, willing the full effect of her slim frame, her elegantly ovular face, her incandescent skin. There had been a time when she was known as the pretty daughter of a nouveau riche, but she had recently taken towearing the pastels and whites preferred by the demurest girls her age, mindful of their conjugal connotations—although today, given the state of the streets she was traversing, she had chosen a darker hue. She extended her gloved hand and said, “I am Miss Hayes.”
“I work at Weingarten the furriers’,” the girl went on shyly. “I’ve seen you once or twice from the backroom.”
“Oh, then I must thank you for your service,” Penelope replied graciously. She inclined her body forward in a gesture that might almost be called a bow, although the stiff Medici collar of her navy cloth coat with gold piping made it difficult to move her head in a truly humble manner. When she met the girl’s eyes again, she quickly added, “Would you like a turkey?”
Already the procession was moving along ahead of her. The marching band playing noels had crossed onto the next block, and she could hear the voice of Mr. William Schoonmaker through the megaphone moving along just behind the band. He was wishing the crowds who thronged the sidewalks a joyous season, and reminding them in as subtle a manner as he was able who had paid for their holiday parade. For the parade had been his idea, and he had financed the band and the traveling nativity scene and the holiday fowl, and he had arranged for various society matrons and debutantes of his acquaintance to pass them out to the poor. They were the real attraction, Penelope couldn’t stop herself from thinking, as sheturned to her loyal friend Isaac Phillips Buck and reached into the large burlap sack he was carrying.
Even through her dogskin gloves and a layer of newspaper wrapping, she could feel the cold squishiness of the bird. It was heavy and awkward in her hands, and she tried not to show any signs of revulsion as she moved forward with the promised Christmas turkey. The girl looked at the package in a blank way and her smile faded.
“Here,” Penelope said, trying not to rush her words. She suddenly, desperately needed the girl to take the turkey from her. “For you, for your family. For Christmas. From the Schoonmakers…and fromme.”
The moment lengthened in front of her, and then abruptly the girl’s smile returned. Her whole mouth hung open with joy. “Oh, Miss Hayes, thank you! From me…and…and…from my family!” Then she took the weighty bird from Penelope and turned back to her friends in the crowd. “Look!” she caroled. “This turkey was given to me especially by Miss Penelope Hayes!”
Her friends gasped at the prized bird and shot shy looks at the girl in the fitted coat. Already they felt they knew her from seeing her fantastical name so often in the society pages. She stood before them as the rightful heir to the place in the public’s heart once held by her best friend, Elizabeth Holland, before Elizabeth’s tragic drowning a few months before. Ofcourse, Elizabeth had not drowned, and was in fact very much alive—a fact Penelope knew quite well, since she had helped the “virginal” Miss Holland disappear so that she might more easily be with that member of her family’s staff she’d apparently been enamored with. And so that, more importantly, Penelope could reclaim what was rightfully hers: the fiancé Elizabeth had left behind. Her ascension was so nearly complete that already society’s most exalted matrons, as well as its newspaper chroniclers, were whispering how very much more Elizabeth-like she seemed now.
This was not something Penelope would have previously found flattering—goodness being rather overrated, in her private opinion—but she had begun to see that it had its advantages.
Penelope repaid the warm embrace of the girl’s adulation by lingering a moment longer, her eyes beaming and her smile as broad as it had ever been. Then she turned to Buck, who was highly visible in his gray check suit and amber-colored dress shirt and a coat of beaver fur that covered the length of his generous body.
“You’ve just got to get me out of here,” she whispered. “I haven’t seen Henry all day, and I’m cold, and if I have to touch another—”
Buck stopped her with a knowing look. “I will take care of everything.”
His features were soft, muted by the fleshiness of his face, and his fair eyebrows were sculpted in a way that lent him the appearance of canniness. A few more ladies, in their wide hats and elaborately lapelled coats, passed by, followed by a marching band. Penelope looked back up the street in the direction of the elder Schoonmaker’s voice and knew that his son, Henry, with his dark eyes and his troublemaker’s lilt, must be crossing into new streets along with him. Her heart sank a little. Then she turned back to Buck, who had already formulated a plan.
Buck was over six feet tall and his body expanded outward imposingly, and he moved now, as he so often had before, to shield the girl who most benefited from his loyalty. He had not been born rich—though he claimed to be a relation of the famous Buck clan who these days mostly resided in grand old moldering mansions in the Hudson Valley—but was invaluable when it came time to host a party, and as such was often given fine things for free. Penelope pulled the veil of her hat down over her face and followed him into the crowd. Once they had made their way safely through the throng, Buck dropped his cumbersome bag of turkeys and helped Penelope into a waiting brougham.
While Buck said a few words to her driver, she settled into the plush black velvet seat and exhaled. Inside everything one might lean against had the softness of down, and everything one might touch was made of gold. Penelope felt a softening at her temples; the world was right again. She removed her gloves in one deft motion and then tossed them through the open carriage door. Buck glanced at the slushy puddle into which they fell, and then took a step up and into the seat beside Penelope. As the wheels began to crunch across the rough pavement, he leaned forward and pulled a polished wooden box from underneath the seat.
“Kidskin gloves?” he said. “Or would you prefer silk?”
Penelope examined the slender white fingers of her hands as she rubbed them against each other. Most girls like her, whose fathers were industrialists or bank presidents or heads of their own insurance empires, changed their gloves three or four times a day as they moved from teas to dinner parties to intimate little musicales. But Penelope thought her hands were superior, and so preferred to change gloves ten or eleven times. She never wore the same pair twice, though her recently discovered virtue had inspired her to donate them occasionally. “Kid. It isn’t warm outside, and you never know who you’ll meet on a drive.”
“Indeed,” Buck replied as he removed a hand-sewn pair for her. “Especially whenIam giving the coachman his instructions.”
“Thank you.” Penelope drew the gloves over her wrists and felt like herself again, which was for her always a good thing.
“They adored you today,” Buck went on contemplatively.
“If only it weren’t all so unbearable.” Penelope let her exquisite head rest against the velvet. “I mean really, how many poor people can New York possibly hold? And don’t they ever get sick of turkey?” She brought her kid-covered fingertips up to her high, fine cheekbones. “My face hurts from all the smiling.”
“It is dull, always keeping up the pretense of being good.” Buck paused. “But you were never one to lose sight of a goal,” he went on delicately.
“No,” Penelope agreed. “And I haven’t.”
Just then, the carriage came to a stop, and Buck put his hand on the little gold crank to lower the window. Penelope leaned over him and saw that they had come around to the front of the parade and now stood in the intersection looking down at the head of the procession. There was William Schoonmaker, both tall and broad in his black cloth suit. Beside him was the second Mrs. Schoonmaker, née Isabelle De Ford, who was still young, and who was currently a vision in furs and lace. They were framed in the canyon of tenement buildings, and they paused at the sight of the carriage in their path. In a moment Henry came up to their side.
Penelope’s breath caught at the sight of him. There had been a time when she saw Henry Schoonmaker almost every day, when they had been intimate with each other and withevery secret corner of their families’ mansions that permitted behavior not suitable to the maiden daughters of high society. They had done the kinds of things girls like Elizabeth Holland had been famous for not doing—until one day Henry announced that he was engaged to Miss Holland. At a dinner party that Penelope had attended. It was enough to make one vomit, which was in fact what Penelope had done next.
Of course, her violent reaction to that despicable news had since been tempered with understanding. Buck had helped her with that. He had pointed out that old Schoonmaker was a businessman of no small ambition—mayoral ambition—and that he doubtless liked the idea of his son’s bride being so pristine and well liked. Penelope felt fairly certain that if Elizabeth was capable of something, then she was, too, and she’d set about making herself into just such a potential daughter-in-law.
She had rarely been near Henry since then, and the sight of him now was like a concentrated dose. He was a slim figure in black, and under the long shadow of his top hat she could see the handsome line of an aristocratic jaw. He still wore a mourning band on his left arm, which Penelope noticed even as she willed Henry to meet her eyes. She knew he would. And in a few moments, he did. Penelope held his gaze with as much modesty as she could muster, smiled an oblique little smile, and then pulled the veil back down over her face.
“It was a lovely parade, Mr. Schoonmaker!” she called out the window, resting her hand on the half-raised glass.
As she settled back into the velvet carriage seat, she heard Buck tell the driver to move on. But she wasn’t thinking about where she was going. She was thinking about Henry and how very soon he would be done mourning Elizabeth. He was standing back there now, she just knew, remembering what kind of girl she was under the virtuous veneer, and all that had passed between them. And this time, it wouldn’t be just stolen kisses in back hallways. There would be no secrecy and no humiliation. This time it would be for real.Two
The social leaders of this city have been concerned as of late with one of their own. Mrs. Holland—whose judgment and taste were once revered by top-drawer people—has been in mourning for her husband for almost a year, but her scarcity has been noticed still. Some have suggested that the Holland fortune has dwindled over the years and that the family of the late Mr. Edward is living in near poverty on Gramercy Park. With the passing of her elder daughter, the lovely Elizabeth, who was to have married Mr. Henry Schoonmaker, Mrs. Holland will surely be considering matrimonial options for her other child, Diana, who at sixteen is still very young and has been known for being seen in public without a hat.
—FROM THE SOCIETY PAGE OF THENEW-YORK NEWS OF THE WORLD GAZETTE, FRIDAY, DECEMBER15, 1899
THE MAUVE, LEAFLESS BRANCHES OF TREES ROTATEDat a giddy pace around the little frozen pond in Central Park. They moved horizontally between a gray strip of sky and a mass of people whose cheeks had been turned red by the cold. This panorama sped faster and faster until, suddenly, Diana Holland put the toe of her skate down into the ice and came to a dramatic stop. She took an ecstatic breath to steady herself, and felt dizzy and lucky to be alive and in the refreshing winter air.
Then she saw her companion for the afternoon, Percival Coddington.
“Miss Holland,” he said as he stumbled toward her. Although Diana felt a strong urge to be far away from Percival, she couldn’t help but fear for him a little—and for anyone unlucky enough to be within his wingspan—as he tripped forward on the tips of his skates, his arms flailing in some helpless search for balance.
Diana was trying very hard not to laugh at him. Percival—as she had already discovered that afternoon—did not take kindly to being laughed at. He had greeted all of her jokes that afternoon with sourness and ill humor, and had several times pointed out that she was not behaving as he believed a young woman who longed to marry should. There was really nothing to do in such situationsbutlaugh, although she was doing her sincere best to resist. To distract him from the pickled expression her face had taken on, she now offered him her hand.
“Miss Holland,” Percival said again as his grip tightened. She was glad that two layers of gloves separated her palm from his and made a silent prayer that she would not be pulled down with him.
“Mr. Coddington, my sister was, and still is to me, Miss Holland. I’d prefer Miss Diana.”
Percival, whose hair was like a greasy mat and whose nostrils flared in what could only be described as a grotesque way, lowered his eyes respectfully. It was not entirely honest for Diana to have said what she said. Despite the affected pose of extreme mourning and deep melancholy that she had employed for the last two months, she was neither bereaved nor in particularly low spirits. She felt justified in manipulating the storied loss of her elder sister, however, since it was Elizabeth’s premature departure from New York that had necessitated a host of afternoons like this one, spent in the company of wealthy and detestable bachelors. For once theirmother had gotten over the initial shock of losing Elizabeth, she had redirected her ambition for an advantageous match from her first daughter onto her second. This despite her poor health, which had afflicted her for much of the fall.
It was Mrs. Holland who had insisted that Diana accept Percival’s invitation to ice-skate that day, and she had also been the one—Diana felt she could safely assume—who had suggested the activity in the first place. Percival was objectionable in more than one way, of course, but the most pressing reason that Diana wanted to free her hand from his was that her heart belonged elsewhere. And that was not a thing a woman like Mrs. Holland would have any patience for.
It was, additionally, just like Elizabeth to absent herself from Diana’s life at the precise moment Liz finally had an interesting story to tell. For she had been driven to fake her own death by her love for a boy named Will Keller, who had once been the Hollands’ coachman and was good looking enough that Diana had wondered on more than one occasion what it would be like to kiss him. The faked death had involved the Hudson River and the assistance of Elizabeth’s treacherous friend Penelope Hayes, and then the older Holland girl had gone off to California in pursuit of what must have been a very agonizing, and thus fascinating, love. But since she had learned of her sister’s romantic deception, Diana had received only the most limited information about Elizabeth’s whereabouts.
And so while Diana supported her sister’s quest for true love, and while she remained desperately curious about it, she also couldn’t help the feeling that one of its unintended consequences was her own exposure to a matrimonial campaign of which she was neither the ideal nor the intended subject.
She maintained her sad eyes as she skated along with Percival, through the crowds of happy people in bulky coats, betting that if she continued to look abject he would continue to be foiled in his attempts to talk to her. It was with her heart-shaped face and shiny dark eyes focused downward that she first noticed the crack in the ice.
“I’m sorry to have made you think about Miss Holland again,” Percival said haltingly as Diana pulled him to the side of the hole along the pond’s edge. Already she could feel the dampness of his palm seeping through her knit glove. She could not help but compare him to her bachelor of choice—who was in every way Percival’s superior—and this only strengthened her desire to snatch her hand back. “You don’t seem so very much like her, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve as much sympathy as anybody.”
“Oh, it’s quite all right.” Diana quelled her irritation at this comment by reminding herself how insignificant his chances of ever escorting her anywhere again were. Her dissimilarity to her sister had not of course prevented him from surreptitiously glancing over her entire form several times.She made two strong pushes against the ice. As her speed increased, the deadweight that was Percival Coddington jerked along behind her as they circled the rink. She turned her face shyly in his direction, and attempted a slow, inviting smile. “Surely you can go faster than that, Mr. Coddington.”
Percival’s father had been an industrialist and his mother the plain and consumptive third daughter of a branch of the Livingston family. It was apparent to anybody who cared to pay attention that their eldest son had come by his personality matrilineally. Since Percival had inherited his father’s fortune, he had distinguished himself neither in business nor in society, though he was known to collect the weaponry of foreign cultures. He was not known for being courageous, however, or particularly light on his feet. As Diana moved forward, her awareness of the squealing children and far-off music, of the trees and the sky and even the cold began to fade. She was moving around the rink with purpose now, and she could feel warmth growing in the muscles of her calves as her skates moved against the ice. They were approaching the crack again now, and she could see the dark water through it.
Diana gave Percival one more faint smile, took two strides forward, and then jerked her hand back. She disguised the intent of this motion by turning on her skates and making a little ta-da flourish with her arms as she began to skate backward. Percival looked at her through pinched, far-set eyes, andfor a minute he seemed impressed by Diana’s trick. But soon he was wheeling his arms in an attempt at balance, and it became apparent that he did not know to turn. His skates kept him moving in the same line, and when he saw the direction in which they were taking him his face froze in terror. Diana did not wait to witness Percival’s inevitable fall. She continued to move smoothly backward through the crowd, her glossy brown curls blowing forward across her small, pointed chin as she did.
When she heard the cries for help and saw the crowd rush to the place where the fissure in the ice had been, she knew Percival would be all right. She put her knit-gloved hand over her face and allowed herself a giggle. She felt much lighter on the ice now, and very pleased with herself for showing Percival that, even if she was not quite as marriageable as her sister, still she was not for sale. A brief bath in freezing water would remind him that he was quite far from deserving any Holland girl for a bride, and she was only sorry that Henry Schoonmaker was not there to appreciate the orchestration of this quite deserved comeuppance.
It had been over a month since she’d spoken to Henry. He, too, was in mourning for Elizabeth, and though his engagement to her had never been a love match, he did not know that she was alive. For him her death was real, and very sobering. But Diana was the one he truly loved. At least, that was how it had seemedto her, a month ago, the last time he’d paid her mother and her aunt Edith one of those melancholy visits where nobody said a word as they sat and grieved and looked into their lukewarm tea. He must love her still. Diana was sure of it.
She reached the edge of the pond and took a few choppy steps to a wooden bench. The crowd had formed a dark wall around the place where she’d let go of Percival’s hand. Beyond them the landscape was still and white, with the Dakota apartment building rising sternly over the trees. She bent and unlaced her skates with nimble fingers, and before she had even removed them from her feet a boy emerged from a nearby hut with her black leather boots. She reached into her coat pocket to find him a tip, but he must have been eager not to miss any of the action across the ice, because he didn’t even wait for it. No one could resist disaster, she supposed.
She had just secured the boots when she noticed a man who had departed from the crowd and was sailing across the ice in her direction. He was wearing a Russian fur hat and a camel-colored suit that didn’t look entirely warm enough for a day spent on ice, and he was skating forward with his hands behind his back, which struck Diana as rather jaunty—almost like a pose Henry would assume. When she realized that his shoulders were too wide to be Henry’s, that his figure was somewhat more filled out, she felt all the crushing sadness of being woken suddenly from a pleasurable dream.
When he was a few yards away, the man came to a halt, lifted his hat, and tipped his head in her direction. Diana found his appearance, his broad cheeks and sharp nose and brow like some great crouching woolly spider, familiar; his hair was dark and cut close to his head, and he had a certain attentive manner about the eyes. He replaced his hat high on the back of his head and said, “I fear your escort is not going to be able to take you home.”
“Oh?” Diana answered innocently. “I suppose that’s what all the hubbub is about.”
“I’m Davis Barnard,” he went on, accepting her comment at its face value and offering his hand. “Would you like a ride?”
“Oh…Mr. Barnard.” As she pronounced the name, a host of associations came to her. “You write the ‘Gamesome Gallant’ column, don’t you?”
Her new acquaintance smiled faintly and nodded. When he was done changing into his shoes, they walked to his waiting carriage in silence. Diana knew that it was bad form to accept rides from gentlemen she barely knew, but she considered herself unconventional, and anyway, she’d always wondered what a newspaper man looked like up close. It was only once she was situated under a blanket on the leather seat that he began to explain himself.
“You know, I was always a great admirer of your sister,the elder Miss Holland…” he began, as the horses moved forward and jerked the carriage into motion.
“Yes, I remember.” Diana knew she should not go on, but did. “You wrote such pretty things about her. Mother always liked that.”
“It was a tragedy,” he said, which forced Diana to assume the stricken face she had worn so often in the last few months. “I find it very hard to write about your family since your sister’s death.”
Diana, not knowing what to make of this, remained silent. “But I still read everything, of course. That piece in theGazettetoday, for instance, speculating about—” Here he broke off and looked to Diana for her reaction.
She could not stop the heat that was coming into her cheeks and didn’t try to mask her irritation. It was true that the Hollands, one of Manhattan’s oldest and most genteel families, were at the moment poorly off financially, and while Diana did not think of herself as bound by materialism, she disliked being pitied.
“Speculating about what?” she asked hotly.
“Never mind. It doesn’t matter.” Barnard rested his chin on his sizable palm and appraised her. “The point is, you come from not one but two of the old lines, and even if some columnists write baseless things about you, the Hollands are stillplaced amongst the best people. That is why I am very happy to have made your acquaintance. And why I would like to tell you that, if you ever hear any interesting stories, any stories that might be of interest tomoi,it would be my pleasure to…pay…you a visit.” He paused for effect while holding her gaze. “You should know that I am very discreet.”
As the carriage pulled out of the park, Diana could feel her lips curling back in amusement. Soon they would be traveling down Fifth. Barnard was returning her smile, and she could not help but toss her head back, in the special way that she had, and laugh. “I hardly think I know anything of interest, Mr. Barnard, though it is very nice of you to have offered me the ride anyway. I will be depending on you to ask me to dance the next time we are in attendance at the same ball,” she concluded, which was a nice way of indicating that she had every intention of telling him nothing. This despite the fact that her mind was currently so occupied by secrets of the wild and romantic variety that she had to marvel at herself a little for keeping them this long.
“All right, Miss Diana,” he replied with the same mysterious smile. “And I am glad to say that, having seen you so very close up, you are just as lovely as your sister.”
They parted cordially in front of the Hollands’ home at No. 17 Gramercy Park South; Mr. Barnard helped Diana to the street, kissed her hand, and told her not to forget hisoffer. He insisted that she take his card, and before leaving he reminded her again of his discretion. As she turned and walked up the stone steps to the enclosed filigreed-iron porch, she couldn’t help but smile to herself at the thought that she might need to sell gossip for money. For while it was true that her family’s fortune had been reduced to a pittance, there was another secret that Diana was holding close to her chest.
In a letter Elizabeth had written just after her disappearance she had told Diana that she knew about her feelings for Henry. She knew about the night they had spent together in the Schoonmaker greenhouse, and about the flurry of notes that they had sent to each other during Elizabeth and Henry’s ill-fated engagement. She had even approved.
And so Diana knew that as soon as it was appropriate—as soon as Henry’s mourning period for Elizabeth had ended—she would see him everywhere. At the opera and at the subscription balls and at all the little Christmas parties New York could hold. Soon enough, Henry would propose to her, and she already had permission to accept from the only person who mattered.
Then she would be forever free from those sympathetic frowns, as well as from the coarse implication that she should care about something like money. From these prearranged afternoons with the Percival Coddingtons of the world and the depressing eventuality of a long marriage to one of them.For it was a lovely auxiliary fact that Henry Schoonmaker was not only very handsome and wickedly fun but also quite rich, and that meant that he could make all of this go away. Although she had to suppose that when she was with Henry her life would be so bright and exciting that she wouldn’t find much time for worries or troubles anyway.Three
There was a time when this state was full of miners panning for gold, but it’s nearly a new century, and California is a different place than it was in ’49. The new hordes are looking for black gold. The one word on every man’s mind is: Oil!
—BAKERSFIELD SUN, FRIDAY, DECEMBER15, 1899
THE GOLDEN GRASSY FIELD LAY AHEAD, PLAYINGtricks on the eye so that in one moment Elizabeth Holland thought she was nearly there and in the next knew herself to be miles away. She paused and gazed out from under the brim of her hat, which had done little to protect the alabaster complexion she was once known for. The skin of her heart-shaped face, with its subtle features and small round mouth, had turned a shade of brown she had never before seen on a woman, and her ash-blond hair had been streaked almost white by the sun. She looked behind her, in the direction of the little railroad town of San Pedro from whence she had come. It was impossible for her to tell how long she had been walking, or how close she was to home.
Though home was not the word for it. Home, for the entirety of her eighteen years, had been a stately town house on Gramercy Park. Three generations of Hollands had lived there, filling its wood-paneled rooms with all variety of knickknacks and objets d’art, with the soft sounds of polite socialintercourse, with the aroma of tea. It was the house where her father had lived all of his too-short life. Through the high bay windows of their parlor, one could see the enclosed and leafy park populated exclusively with well-dressed people of leisure. Home was very far away now.
But Elizabeth had been brought up a Holland, and she carried some of that with her, even in the wide-open expanse of California. She was wearing the same blue-and-white seersucker dress she’d worn the day she left New York, with its narrow waist and three-quarter sleeves and square collar. The white wasn’t pure white anymore, but even in this far-off place she did her best to keep it clean. She still walked with her spine straight and her shoulders back, and she clasped her hands girlishly as she moved. Elizabeth had followed her heart, and no one ever regrets that. But still she thought of her mother and sister and her aunt Edith, back on Gramercy Park, abandoned to their poverty. For Elizabeth was the one who was supposed to have saved them, by marrying wealthy Henry Schoonmaker, and instead she had simply slipped away.
But not simply—she knew it could not have been simple. She knew very little else about her family’s situation, because her sister, Diana, was a terrible correspondent, and it was much too dangerous for Elizabeth to be nudging her all the time. She had in fact allowed herself only two exchanges with her younger sister, to assure her that she was alive and to give her the addressof the Western Union office in San Pedro. Diana had mentioned, in one of her rare and cryptic letters, that their mother’s health had suffered. Ever mindful of this, Elizabeth walked all the way into town any day she could, although today there had again been no news from New York. Elizabeth had bought the Bakersfield paper instead, just in case there was a reference or two to doings back east, and begun her long walk back.
Before she arrived in California she had heard of only two cities in the far-off state, Los Angeles and San Francisco, both of which Will had spoken of. She had arrived in San Francisco, unsure of herself or how exactly she would find Will, but determined to do so. And then, there he was—waiting for the train as if he’d known she’d be on it. In truth, he told her later, he’d gone to the station every day, hoping that one afternoon he’d see his Lizzy emerging from a black railcar and stepping toward him through the arriving luggage. Soon after, they rode down through the Central Valley. They had passed towns with names like Merced and Modesto and San Joaquin, which looked as dusty as they sounded, with their sad little clapboard main streets and wooden sidewalks. They hadn’t yet gotten as far as Los Angeles.
At first she had missed her home intensely. She had been literally homesick. In New York, Elizabeth had been a girl for whom perfection—of appearance and dress, of etiquette and reputation—had been a kind of habit. She had not let go ofthese things easily. But now, after two months in the west, where neither dress nor manners were dictated by elaborate rules, she found herself in an almost dreamlike state. There was the great expanse of blue above her—a pure blue unlike any sky she had ever seen in New York—and the sound of warm wind in the ochre grass that she was marching through, and very little else.
She was still unused to hearing no carriage wheels, no far-off El, no rumblings of the laundresses or kitchen girls somewhere down in the house. As she walked, she held her wide-brimmed straw hat to her head, and focused on two things: the arc of blue, and the scarred yellow hills, undulating up and down as far as she could see. To Elizabeth, the noise her own feet made crunching against grass, scattering dirt and pebbles, was almost orchestral.
Suddenly the sound of horse hooves erupted behind her. There was the earthy smell of a large animal, and the loud pronunciation of her nickname.
Her heart seized, but when she looked up she saw Will, her Will, trotting around her on the old dappled horse that he had bought in Lancaster. When she met his eyes, she saw that he was smiling.
“Where do you think you’re going?” The laughter was clear enough in his voice.
Elizabeth bit her lip, fighting the impulse to laugh with him. It was not lost on her, the irony that a girl who had been able to read any social situation, from its faintest laugh to its shortest pause, was still unable to read the wide-open country. She should have anticipated Will’s approach, and yet she hadn’t. “I was going…home.”
“I was wondering if you weren’t running away from me,” he went on with the same smile, “when I saw you pass about a hundred yards from camp and keep walking, heading west at a determined gait.”
Elizabeth turned around sharply, raising the folded newspaper to her face to keep the sun out of her eyes. She could see it clearly now, over on the bluff, the little makeshift canvas-and-wood cabin that Will had built. It was a ways back now, but perfectly clear.
“You must have moved it!” She looked back at him, shaking her head in mock accusation. “It wasn’t there twenty minutes ago! I’m sure of it.”
She waited for his reply, and it took her a long minute to realize that he wasn’t going to say anything. His pale blue eyes, set far apart in his tanned face, were gazing at her and his thick lips, twisted slightly at their edges, betrayed no sign of movement. He was watching her closely, thinking what, she couldn’t be sure, perhaps marveling at how much she’d changed. Before her father died Will Keller had been his valet, and hissturdy features had always distinguished him from the Henry Schoonmakers of the world. But as they grew up, Elizabeth had found Will’s good looks surprising, and she considered the pleasant composition of his face her own precious secret.
“You just like me chasing after you, don’t you?” he said finally.
“Yes.” She smiled. He smiled. Then she took a breath and a step in his direction. “Are you going to take me home then?”
“No,” Will answered, swinging his leg over the horse’s broad back and landing on its other side. “I wanted to show you something first.”
He led the horse with one hand and reached for hers with the other, and together they walked north up a rise. She lagged slightly behind, still holding on tight, the top of her head just reaching his broad shoulder.
“I saw this the other day while I was out scouting,” he went on, though in fact Elizabeth needed no explanation. She had followed him across a vast country knowing only vaguely of his plan to seek his fortune out west, and she hardly needed more words to justify climbing to see the view of their rented acreage now. She looked down the gentle slope of the hill and saw a field covered in delicate orange poppies that was as brilliant as any Fifth Avenue chandelier, and clutched his hand tighter.
“So beautiful,” she whispered.
“There were always so many flowers at home, remember? But nothing like this.”
“That’s because these are wildflowers, and anyway, that’s not home anymore.”
Elizabeth could think of no answer to this, so she simply smiled back. She smiled until he took her face in his hands and kissed her. Then he drew her in, folding her small body into his arms, making her forget that there had ever been any other place.
In New York the time that she had spent with Will, and the affection that they had shown each other, had been secret, stolen from the hours late in the night or early in the morning. Now, in the West, with no one to watch them but the vast sky and the old horse now bending toward the ground, Elizabeth felt drawn to Will with an intensity that was almost frightening. It was a hunger for lost time, she supposed. Already he was hoisting her up, carrying her as he moved toward the horse and opened the saddlebag to remove a piece of canvas.
“Miss Elizabeth,” he said, looking up at her with sincere, watchful eyes. He still called her that even though she’d begged him not to. It was a habit he found difficult to let go of. She was still aloft, her body propped against his arms, her own grasp tight around his neck, and as she waited for him to continue he shook out the piece of rough, off-white cloth andlet it fall behind her on the ground. Then he bent to lay her down on top of it.
“What were you going to say?” she asked as he came down beside her. She pushed herself halfway up, so that she was lying on her side and facing him.
Will reached over and took off her hat, and began to play with her hair thoughtfully. “Just that I’ll build you a real house someday,” he said quietly. “With a room to dine in and a room to receive, and enough vases so you can pick all the poppies you want and put them everywhere.”
“Oh, I know you will!” She bent her head and laughed, and then gave his arm a pull so that he rose over her, his body blocking out the sky. She lay back, feeling the flowers cushioning her head underneath the canvas, her hair fanning out around her, and smiled up at the serious expression that had come over Will’s face. His hair had grown so long that it had to be tucked into the collar of his shirt. The formerly dark color had become almost reddish in the sun. It was as though the city had always been wrong for him, and here, far away, where the land was open, he had arrived at his full strength. He brought his lips to hers with exquisite pressure, and when he drew back again to look at her she couldn’t stop the flush that had come across her cheeks and down her neck.
She felt so pleasantly light and empty, and almost overwhelmed by the events that had brought her to this place.The silence that followed was strangely long, and at first she wondered if he didn’t have another surprise. But she had been studying Will’s silences for a long time. She knew in a few passing moments that there was something he’d been meaning to tell her.
“It wasn’t just luck that we ended up here,” he said with the steadfast seriousness that had first endeared him to her. He had pulled away from her and pushed himself up to sitting.
“Oh no?” she answered lightly.
“No. I knew about this place already. Your father told me about this place.”
Elizabeth’s breath slowed and she felt a momentary dampness along the lower lids of her eyes. The memory of her father was always confused and strong. He had embodied the familial sensibility, its particular grace, but he had never been any good with money. He had made poor decisions about his inheritance and lived largely in a world of his own. She pushed herself up on her elbow to dismiss the emotion. “But how is that…?”
“Back when I drove him everywhere and we would talk”—Will was saying each word carefully, and his speech was terse, as it always was when he had thought something through several times—“he would tell me about the places he had been. He told me about many places that I might want tosee, but this was the one he told me to find if I wanted to get rich. He described it exactly. He said that it would be—”
“Oh, Will.” Elizabeth felt something like cold in the wind at the bare spot on the back of her neck, just below where her hair rose. “Father said lots of pretty things, but he was a dreamer. Youknowthat.”
Will continued looking in the direction of the cabin and didn’t say anything.
“I just don’t want you to hope for something so wild. I was reading in the paper just this morning how difficult it is to find oil, how many men came out from Pennsylvania and fell flat. And those were the ones with experience. They couldn’t compete against the big companies; they’re the only ones who succeed.”
“I’m going to give you just as good a life as the one you gave up.” He turned to look at her and then rested his large hand on the curve at the base of her neck. “It was your father who told me how.”
Elizabeth never wanted to kiss Will so much as at moments like these. “Oh, I don’t need money, Will,” she whispered. Then she moved into his warm body and kissed him again.
Later, when they walked back as wrapped up in each other as was possible while still moving forward, she again felt perfectly content. The contented feeling was so overpowering that for a moment she even stopped wondering if that last thing she’d said, about not needing money, could really be true.
DEARLADIES’ STYLEMONTHLY: Could you please give me the answer to a question of great concern? What is the proper mourning period for a young person who has lost their betrothed? The etiquette books are undecided on this sad but pressing subject.
DEARREADER: You are not alone in wondering, as a very prominent case like the one you describe is now occupying many in society. While the loss of a fiancée is a grave occurrence, we must remember that engaged couples are not yet man and wife, nor are they technically relatives. And of course, gentlemen in general must observe a shorter mourning period than ladies. So while a respectful, private period of mourning is essential, two months will perfectly suffice.
—LADIES’ STYLE MONTHLY, DECEMBER1899
HENRY SCHOONMAKER STOOD AT THE INTERSECTIONof two pinched little streets in the old part of town and wondered how soon he could reasonably escape from his father’s parade. The carriage from which Penelope Hayes had winked at him had disappeared—it had been heading in the direction of the East River, though its final destination was almost certainly Fifth Avenue, where she lived. Henry’s family lived along that string of stocky mansions as well, although their arrival, on the Avenue and in New York society, predated the Hayeses’ by many years. But that hardly seemed to matter now. No one particularly cared anymore from where, or when, the Hayeses had come. Penelope had even been able to absent herself from the parade early while maintaining the appearance of some saintly champion of the poor. She was clever—Henry had to admire her for that.
“What a fine young lady Miss Hayes is turning out to be,” Henry’s father, William Sackhouse Schoonmaker, said as he proceeded through the intersection. Henry watched frombehind as his father strode purposefully across the bricked street. “It was so good of her to partake in our little charity, and to stay as long as she did.”
“And you know how she must tire so,” his wife, Isabelle, put in. At twenty-five, she was only five years older than Henry himself, and she spoke in a high, girlish voice that made her sound perennially giddy. She wore an ocelot coat and a hat that was top-heavy with silk roses and stuffed sparrows, and even with a firm grasp on her husband’s arm she still managed to bounce as she walked. “As all ladies do.”
“Young Miss Hayes was changed forever, as we all were,” Mr. Schoonmaker went on, to theNew York Worldreporter who had been trailing along at his other elbow and dutifully writing down his thoughts all afternoon, “by the loss of Miss Holland. You see how transformed my son is.”
Both men turned to look at Henry, who was following a few paces behind. He wore a top hat and a black knee-length coat that fit his slim frame well. For while the death of Elizabeth Holland had indeed taken a profound toll on his previously carefree attitude toward life, he had not been so truly transformed as to have given up caring what he wore.
“You see,” he heard his father say as he looked away from his son. “He is inconsolable. The current mayor’s handling of Elizabeth’s death is of course chief among the reasons I intend to challenge him.”
The elder Schoonmaker went on, but Henry had heard the speech many times before. His father had recently decided, despite his enormous personal wealth and the power it afforded him, that he wanted to play in politics as well. His desire to be mayor of a recently consolidated New York City was one of the reasons that Henry had been compelled to enter into an engagement with Elizabeth Holland in the first place, and it was thus also one of the reasons that she had come to such a tragic end. For Henry had seen his fiancée on the last day of her life, and the image of her—alone and frightened in the middle of a Manhattan sidewalk—had been simple enough to interpret.
She had stood there for a few moments looking into him. They had been engaged only a few weeks at the time and, under pressure from their families, they were to be married in a matter of days. Henry’s behavior during that period was not something he looked back on proudly, although it was one of the few times in his life that he had been completely honest with a girl. Just not the girl he happened to be engaged to. He was not proud, either, of his behavior in the years leading up to his engagement, which had earned him a not undeserved reputation as a cad. Still, he could not bring himself to entirely renounce his behavior the night before he saw Elizabeth on that street corner—the night before she drowned. For that was the night that he had invited her younger sister, Di, to theSchoonmaker greenhouse. It had been, for him, an uncharacteristically chaste night; she had stayed up whispering to him and kissing him with a sweetness and innocence that could not possibly have survived what happened next. Elizabeth had seen Henry and Diana together the following morning, and he knew from her clear-eyed gaze that she understood what had occurred. That knowledge must have driven her to her death—one did not justfallinto the river and never return. Henry could not deny that devastating fact.
But Henry did not blame himself alone. He blamed his father, too, which was one of the reasons he could not stomach W. S. Schoonmaker’s talking again of Elizabeth as though she were a martyr to his own political cause. He turned and walked back through the marching band that followed in the parade. Above him were tenements, some of them owned by his father’s company, with their unimaginative façades and ersatz Italianate ornamentation. Those little plaster flourishes, which were always crumbling, depressed Henry beyond reason. He caught an elbow against a trombone, causing a small collision of musicians, and heard the music quaver for a moment. The band must have known who was signing their paychecks, however, and there was not even a mutter of complaint. They were after all wearing uniforms in the Schoonmaker colors of sky blue and gold.
Henry kept on, through the band, with all its ear-shatteringhorns, through the clutch of ladies that followed, in their white gloves and weighty hats. He heard the ladies saying his name and knew that they had turned to look at the spectacle of the young man moving downtown, against the traffic of his own father’s event. He would hear about it later, of course. His father was fond of threatening to disown him if he did not behave as a future mayor’s son should, although these threats had mostly abated since his father had realized that he might plausibly base his campaign on the current mayor’s mishandling of a debutante’s death and the spectacle of his own son’s grief.
Henry’s eyes moved across the faces of the people massed on the sidewalk and the paraders all around him until his gaze settled, happily, on the face of his old friend Teddy Cutting. Next to Teddy was his younger sister, Alice, who was fair like her brother, with the same gray eyes, which were now focused shyly on the ground. Henry had once kissed her in the garden of the Cuttings’ Newport cottage, and she hadn’t been able to look at him straight since. She was the youngest of Teddy’s sisters, Henry believed, although he could never be sure, as Teddy was the only son among several siblings. To Henry this had always been telling: Teddy was the kind of man who had too many sisters.
“Miss Cutting,” Henry said, taking her gloved hand and kissing it. “It is always a pleasure to see you.”
Teddy gave him a warning look. “You look like you’ve had about enough.”
Henry smiled with his characteristic charm at both siblings, and said, “I’m full to the gills.”
“Let’s go, then.” Teddy reached out and put a hand on Henry’s shoulder. He had been one of Henry’s chief sympathizers since the unfortunate events of October. “I know of a lunchroom near here.”
They said good-bye to Alice, who joined a group of young women, and then they moved into the crowd of common people with their faces lowered. The shininess of Henry’s black top hat and the superb cut of his wool coat would have given them away as members of the city’s elite, as would the rich brown check of Teddy’s vicuna jacket, or the stamp of the Union Square milliner on his brown bowler. Still, they made no eye contact with the people in the crowd, and when they emerged onto a side street they hailed the first hackney they saw.
Teddy’s lunchroom was clean and bright, with a floor of small white octagonal tiles and convex mirrors lining the walls. They sat at a small round table made of sturdy dark wood, and they ordered the German beers that arrived in tall glasses with wedges of lemon. Henry felt quiet after several very public hours, and he was grateful that his friend waited to speak until after they had each sipped.
“How are you bearing it?” Teddy asked, placing his glass back on the table. He had taken off his hat, and his blond hair was brushed neatly to the side. At Henry’s wary smile he went on. “I can barely listen to your father’s speeches, and I’m not even related to him. I mean, he hardly knew Elizabeth and then to use her death that way, for political purposes—” Teddy broke off, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Let’s not talk about that.” Henry took a long pull of his beer and then found that he didn’t feel quite so dark anymore. “It’s all hypocrisy and misery if we go that route, and who wants that?”
“Fair enough,” Teddy said, returning his smile. “We’ll just be happy we’re free of ridiculous parades then, and be done with it.”
They clinked their glasses and drank, and in the brief silence that followed, Henry found himself wondering how to open a topic that that they had discussed only briefly more than two months before.
“You are really going to have to find a way to put Alice at ease,” Teddy offered before Henry could speak. He was trying to give Henry a disapproving look, but he couldn’t help a waver of a smile that his friend’s old effect was still at work even in gloomy times. “She gets quiet every time she sees you.”
“Your sister’s too good for me,” Henry replied with alaugh. “She’ll see that soon enough, and the problem will be solved.”
“She won’t want to hear it,” Teddy answered heartily, “but I can’t say I disagree with you.”
Henry paused to drink, and when he placed his beer back on the table he met Teddy’s gray eyes. “You know, my official mourning period is almost over.”
“I know. Thank God.” Teddy drank, and shook his head. “It’s been dull out in the world without you.”
“We have fun.”
“Yes.” Teddy’s eyes shifted and a memory passed in them. “We’ll have a dinner at Sherry’s, or maybe a hunting party up in Tuxedo.”
Henry twirled his top hat in his lap. “I think I’m going to go to the season’s opening at the opera. Even my father likes the idea—the better to drive home his point about Van Wyck’s poor handling of Elizabeth’s death, when there are sure to be newspaper people around. It’sRoméo et Juliette,you know.”
“Well, we’ll have to plan something for afterward, then.”
“Yes.” Henry looked at his hat and began to twirl it the other way. He brought his eyes back up to Teddy’s and returned to the subject he’d so wanted to raise. “There’s something else.”
Teddy had a fair and distinguished brow, and it rose now, ever so subtly.
“At some point, my father will want me to start thinking about another engagement….” Henry paused to clear his throat. “And the girl I find myself thinking about is Diana Holland.”
Their glasses were empty, and one of the waiters in long white aprons appeared to remove them. Teddy asked the man to bring more, and then turned a pained but stern expression on his friend. Henry rarely thought of Teddy as older than himself, but he was reminded of the two years that separated them now.
“That cannot be.” Teddy kept his voice low and looked around to see that nobody had heard.
“Butwhy?” Henry could not hide the exasperation in his voice. “You know Elizabeth was even less interested in me than I was in her. All those rumors about their money, about it being gone—that must have been the reason she accepted my proposal. She couldn’t even bring herself to smile at me. And Diana will be in just the same position as her sister, and, unlike her sister, she has a chance of being happy with me. I would be happy withher.”
“You know society will not allow it.”
Henry shook his head and cast his eyes about the busy lunchroom. “They will forget.”
“I don’t want to know what has happened between you and the younger Miss Holland.” Teddy paused as theirdrinks were delivered, and took a quick sip before continuing. “But if you really care for her, and you seem to, then you must stop being so stupid. Her sister was your fiancée, and she has died under circumstances that none of us begin to understand. Circumstances that you yourself suggested might have something to do with her impending nuptials. Diana may be infatuated with you now, but when she grows up, when she understands more about death and family, when she understands how much she has betrayed Elizabeth by taking up with her former fiancé, it will destroy her. And you know perfectly well how often people will remind her. Society doesnotforget.”
Henry was taking long sips of his beer and trying not to be angry with his friend for speaking negatively of an imagined future that he had promised himself indulgently during the worst moments of the last few months. He had sat across from Diana in her family’s parlor during those first weeks of mourning and imagined the time when she would meet his eyes again, and that eventually all the misery would pass and they could really be together. Diana was the only girl he’d ever met who inspired him to imagine himself as a married man.
“She will come to hate herself, and you too.” Teddy shook his head.
For some reason this brought Elizabeth’s pitiable visageon the morning of her death back into Henry’s mind’s eye, and he began to think of the part his skirt-chasing—however ardent—had played in what she had done next. His fiancée had then seen him with her little sister; perhaps that had been the single event in ending a bright girl’s will to live.
“Let’s go,” Teddy said gently.
Henry finished his beer, and he placed a bill on the table. He had brought the topic up to Teddy once before and subsequently longed to have said nothing. There wasn’t a thing left to say now.
In the past Henry had always ignored his friend’s advice at his own peril, but still he could not give up the picture of Diana he kept in his mind. Even as he put a resigned sort of smile on his face and placed his hat on his head, he could not help but think of her loose curls and fresh skin, of a gorgeous recklessness that perfectly matched his own.
Women often stop me on the street and demand to know how they can transform their daughters into society ladies, and I always say: If they are not born with position, and if they are not uncommonly beautiful—for few girls today transcend mere prettiness—they will have to marry in where they can. To this mission, clothes are essential. A good place to start, I tell these eager parents, is at a department store in a good part of town, where one can find a salesman one can trust….
—MRS. HAMILTON W. BREEDFELT,COLLECTED COLUMNS ON RAISING YOUNG LADIES OF CHARACTER, 1899
LINA BROUD TURNED HERSELF ROUND AND ROUND, overcome with a kind of desire that was still new to her. Everywhere she looked there were objects edged in gold, finished with elaborate hand stitching, or festooned with feathers. They lay in neat piles on tables of mahogany that stretched as far as the eye could see, or at least far enough to reach one of the hundreds of etched mirrors that reflected the opulent scene within the Lord & Taylor department store over and again.
“Tristan,” she said in a high, clear tone. She had been working on her elocution, and had lately concluded that the acoustics within the grand department stores of Ladies’ Mile were ideal for such an endeavor. In her previous life she had only rarely caught glimpses within such stores, which lined Fifth Avenue and Broadway above Union Square, and attracted the kind of women Lina used to serve. This in spite of the fact that the row of grand retailers and little specialty shops was mere blocks from Gramercy Park, where the women Linaused to serve still lived. Most of them, anyway. “I adore these gloves.”
Tristan Wrigley, who was a salesman at Lord & Taylor and the first friend she had made in her new life, came to her side—perhaps an inch closer than men were supposed to in public with women who were not their relations—and said, “Of course, Mademoiselle Carolina. If I may.”
Although Lina was not shy of being seen in public with naked fingers—she had lived most of her life with bare, working hands—she did feel a tinge of embarrassment as Tristan pulled off her gloves and began to draw the new pair on. She immediately noticed how superior in quality the hand-stitched, dove-colored pair were to her own. They fit to her fingers with an almost preternatural closeness, and the smooth softness of the silk against her skin gave her an instantaneous sensation of being very, very rich.
“Does mademoiselle approve?” Like all the Lord & Taylor salesmen, Tristan had been hired for his all-American good looks—the better to lure female shoppers—and he always spoke with an elaborate politesse. He seemed as good a person as any to practice her new persona on, which was why she occasionally let him take her for walks in the park or tea at the hotel. Only occasionally, though—she was merely practicing, and didn’t want him to get too close. Her affections lay elsewhere.
Tristan had a long face with an architectural nose and cheekbones that seemed to set him even above his peers. He wore a fitted brown waistcoat and an ivory shirt buttoned at the wrists. His hazel eyes were such a hypnotic color that Lina sometimes found it difficult to look into them for more than two seconds at a time. Looking away from him did not distress her, however. Regularly averting her eyes was in fact useful to the illusion she was trying to maintain: that she was a copper-smelting heiress from out west (Utah, if pressed, though she had not been) and recently orphaned.
At first she had been surprised at how easily Tristan bought her story. The day she had met Tristan had been in the most nascent stage of her new life, and it had included a terrific blunder. That had also been the first day she’d drunk beer or been in a saloon, and it had not ended prettily. The episode might surely have proven what a thousand little missteps suggested: that she was not a lady and that her origins were very humble indeed.
But she had since witnessed—both in her new home, the New Netherland Hotel, and on her visits to Lord & Taylor with Tristan—real western millionaires, and had seen that they were even coarser and more prone to gaffes than she. For Lina Broud—Carolina, as she was trying to refer to herself in her own mind—did know some things about comportment,manners, and dress. She had learned them as the lady’s maid of the late Elizabeth Holland. Chief among her observations was how effective an aloof demeanor was in declaring one’s personal importance.
It was in fact Elizabeth, whose wealth and reputation for loveliness gave her advantages with which Lina could not compete, who had won the heart of Will Keller—he had been the Hollands’ coachman, and Lina had loved him in secret for a long time. This wound was one of the reasons that she had sold her mistress’s secret, the one that involved Elizabeth and Will spending nights together in the carriage house, to Elizabeth’s sometime friend Penelope Hayes. That information had garnered Lina five hundred dollars, what had then seemed a fortune but had since been reduced by more than half by the dinners and hotel rooms and dresses and trinkets that she hoped would differentiate her from the plain girl she used to be.
It had been a sore disappointment that such an extraordinary-sounding sum didn’t go very far in the lifestyle of a girl like Elizabeth. And Lina was not proud, either, that her life as a lady, or something like it, had been made possible by such a sordid transaction. But she had done what she had to do. Her object had not really been to make herself into a society girl—she just wanted to make herself enough Elizabeth-like that, when she was ready, she could go outwest, and then Will would see that it was Lina he’d wanted all along. Or at least, when he heard of Elizabeth’s death, that the new, shiny Lina could fill that hole in his heart.
Lina had never been above taking Elizabeth’s seconds, even if it was her mistress’s death that now allowed the passing down. She wanted to find Will as much as ever. She believed that that time was near—it had to be, or her money would run out first.
Tristan was placing the gloves she had chosen, the little lace shawl, the Persian lamb muff, the new pair of onyx hose that sold for two dollars and twenty-five cents—Tristan had introduced them to her, and now she could not live without them—each in its own box, with the same magical, crinkling tissue. Lina watched with dizzy joy and a vague sense of dread as these objects were folded and placed, wrapped, and then boxed. Once they were boxed, that meant they were hers and that she would have to pay for them.
“Shall I have these sent to your hotel?”
“No…” Lina paused and looked away. The late afternoon light was coming in through the high, Romanesque windows that faced the street. Already the day was getting away from her, and she couldn’t truly be said to be grander than when it began. When she stepped outside the weather would have dropped, and all the workaday people she so wanted to distinguish herself from would be massed at the store’s plateglass windows to gawk at the Christmas display. At moments like these she couldn’t help but feel a little sad and recall how devastating it had been when, after years of secret longing, she had one night confessed her feelings to Will and then been sent away. She wanted to be sure that such a rejection wasn’t repeated, and reminded herself that she must perfect her transformation before she saw him again. “I’ll be taking a hansom, of course—I can carry them myself. But please do send the bill to the hotel.”
Lina had recently stopped carrying her new wealth on her person—which had been a kind of nervous obsession when she first went out on her own—and had cautiously begun to embrace the luxury of paying later. She kept her Penelope money in a small silk purse with a leather drawstring buried deep in her drawer of lacy underclothes. In her own experience as a maid, this drawer had possessed a taboo aura; she assumed the maids at the hotel would feel the same way and not go through it too carefully.
“Of course, mademoiselle.” Tristan paused and grinned in a way that a real lady probably would have deemed too familiar, and said, “I could accompany you, if you needed assistance.”
“That’s quite all right,” Lina said, looking away from him and subtly turning up her nose. “If you’ll just help me on with my coat, I’ll be going.”
Lina alighted on the corner of Fifty-ninth Street and Fifth Avenue. Once she had firmed up her story and smoothed out some of the details of her performance, she had traded up from a rather seedy hotel on Twenty-sixth Street to the New Netherland, where the bellboys wore royal blue uniforms. It was a wide building of turrets and arched windows with a dignified brown façade, and it loomed over the buildings around it like a terrific sand castle. She had heard somewhere that the Netherland was the tallest hotel in the world, and that was why she had chosen it over the Savoy, its next-door neighbor, or the Plaza, on the west side of the avenue. The three hotels formed a corner around the southeast entrance of the Central Park, and below them stretched the mansions of Huntingtons, Vanderbilts, and Hayeses. The thought that she lived so near people of that caliber still gave Lina a pleasant little electric shock.
Her room was not the best, and still it cost twenty-nine dollars a week. She couldn’t go on like this forever, she knew that, but it hardly mattered, since she would soon be with Will. Strong, capable Will—he would take care of her, and in the meantime, she hoped some of the elegance of hotel life would rub off. That, and she liked returning to her room to the surprise of a swept carpet and a bed remade by someinvisible mechanism. She liked stepping out and seeing that a cab was waiting on the street, as though her arrival had been anticipated exactly.
Lina looked at the driver, and gestured that he should help her with her purchases. She threw her shoulders back and walked, in her practiced way, toward the arched entrance. Despite her freckles—which spread across her nose and darkened her complexion even in winter—there was a natural dignity to her appearance. Her mouth had the effect of pouting, and her eyes were the color of lichen, and there was an upturn to her nose. She wore a fitted tan coat with dramatic lapels that flattered her waist and somewhat unfeminine shoulders, and a little matching hat with a black plume that bounced as she approached the desk.
“Miss Broud, good afternoon,” the diminutive clerk behind the massive mahogany desk greeted her.
As she usually did at such moments Lina concentrated on hiding the pleasure her new surroundings caused her. For the floor was an opulent mosaic with a shiny finish, and the electric light of the chandelier reflected off the marble stairway as though it were the entrance to a grand court in Europe. The lobby smelled of perfume and coffee, and it quietly suggested to anyone who entered that there was no place else to be.If only Will could see me at just this second,she would think when she was standing there, he would forget that he everloved Elizabeth; he would see the perfect girl who had been hidden right in front of him, disguised in the rough.
Lina tipped her head in muted acknowledgment. “My key, please, Mr. Cullen.”
It was when the clerk turned away that she became aware of the presence close behind her. She brought her head around sharply—she thought she had been clear that the driver should wait near the door until one of the bellboys came for her things—and came face-to-face with a far better-dressed man. He wore a burgundy velvet smoking jacket and black slacks, and his ivory collar came all the way to his carefully shaved chin. His features were fine, except for his nose, which belied a taste for the drink, and he was grinning at her in her in a way that might have been flirtatious. She couldn’t be sure of this, however, because he was older—too old a gentleman to be flirting with a seventeen–year-old girl, she thought. But then, there was so much she didn’t yet understand.
The clerk had returned with her key, but he was watching the man in burgundy deferentially and made no move to hand it over to Lina. She waited for the gentleman to speak, and when the seconds had added up, her heart began to pound for fear he knew her secret.
“Are those your things?” he asked, pointing to the driver, who had in fact been waiting patiently near the door with his hat in his hand and his eyes focused on the arched ceiling, according to her instructions and with appropriate awe. “Because the bellboys here—forgive me for saying so, George—are inexperienced and cannot be trusted with such finery.”
Lina had never been in a situation like this one and was without any idea of the proper response. The clerk wouldn’t meet her eyes.
“My apologies.” The gentleman inclined forward in a kind of bow without taking his gaze off Lina. “Mr. Longhorn, at your service.”
The full name was Carey Lewis Longhorn. She knew it from her sister, Claire, whose favorite pastime was reading society columns. He was older than she had suspected then, and richer too—the heir to a banking fortune, if Lina wasn’t mixing him up with someone else. He was known for a string of broken engagements in his youth, and a series of attachments to countesses and fashionable matrons in middle age, and for currently having a large collection of portraits depicting the beauties of the present day. Lina was amazed to see that he was still grinning at her. His eyes were a pale blue that suggested the liveliness of their owner, and his gaunt cheeks rose sharply with the smile.
“Thank you,” Lina finally replied. She knew her hesitance and confusion showed but there was nothing she could do to change it. Beyond Mr. Longhorn, she could see that his valet was already collecting her boxes and paying the cabdriver. The clerk offered the key to Mr. Longhorn—still with immaculate deference, and without even acknowledging that it belonged to Lina—and then she found herself following him away from the desk.
“Are you staying in the hotel with your parents?” Mr. Longhorn asked as they stepped into the elevator. The attendant was closing the mahogany and stained glass door. Lina’s gaze had floated upward to the iron lacework of the ceiling as the ornamented cage jerked and drew them higher. The movement of her eyes had more to do with a continual wonder at the mechanics of vertical conveyance than sadness, but she was not entirely displeased by what Mr. Longhorn said next. “No, I didn’t think so. I have seen you here several times, and always alone. The world is never easy, but orphans are a special case. I am sorry for your loss.”
Lina lowered her eyes to the black-and-white-tiled floor. “He died in the mines,” she lied. “A routine inspection. Father always insisted on doing them himself rather than trust an underling. Copper smelting, that was his business, and he had several mines of his own, too. My mother could not take the shock and her heart gave out within a month. They worked so hard so that I might enjoy this….” She paused to gesture at the gilded elevator, and let her lower lip just quiver. “And though it’s not always easy for me, I think they would want me to enjoy it still.”
Mr. Longhorn’s gray eyebrows rose slightly, and for a moment Lina feared that she’d been improper. For though parts of Lina’s story were true—both of her parents were dead, making her technically an orphan—she was no heiress, and there were moments when she felt like a tremendous fraud. But apparently Longhorn did not think so, for he concluded, with a compassionate smile, “A girl after my own heart.”
“Ninth floor,” the attendant announced as they jerked to a halt. He drew back the door, and as they passed into the hall Lina noticed that he too averted his eyes from Mr. Longhorn. She couldn’t help but be a little impressed by all the awe this nearly gray man inspired, even as he offered his arm and began to escort her down the plush carpeting of the hall to her room. She could hear the footsteps of the valet close behind, carrying her precious boxes.
When they reached her room, Mr. Longhorn leaned forward to unlock the heavy oak door. To her relief he made no attempt to enter. He handed her the key, and said, “With your permission, Robert will put your things on the table.”
Lina’s room was too small to have a table, and she was relieved to hear herself answer with an alternative: “He can put them on the settee by the window.”
The valet moved quietly and efficiently to do as he was told.
“It has been a pleasure to meet you, Miss…”
“Broud. Carolina Broud.”
“Miss Broud.” The old gentleman leaned forward and took her hand to kiss it. The valet exited her room and waited patiently in the background. “You have been very kind allowing me to accompany you for a few moments, and I hope you will be willing to repeat the favor this evening.”
Lina looked back at the valet, as though he might confirm that all of this was very unexpected and perhaps a little inappropriate, but he did not meet her gaze.
“You see,” Mr. Longhorn went on, with what Lina thought might have been a twinkle in his eye, “I have taken a box at the opera for the season, and tonight is the opening, and I have nobody but Robert here to share it with. Would you mind terribly if I asked you to join me?”
Plain little Lina Broud in a box at the opera; she could not have been more surprised if he had presented her with a diamond tiara and crowned her the queen of Persia. She had spent all morning dressed as a society girl, but tonight, rather than remain invisible in her room as she usually did, she was being offered the chance to walk among them. She would be brilliant and looked on, just like the girl Will had believed himself to be in love with. Her first thought was to apologize to Robert for taking his seat, but then she told herself to smile, and realized that she already was.
“Oh, yes,” she said. It was far beyond her control to sound less eager. “I would love to.”Six
After years where everyone wanted to over-bedeck themselves in the ultra-new, it seems that simplicity may again be in vogue. The best people are having quiet little dinners and cutting their day dresses from plain muslin. But remember: There is simplicity and there is simplicity, and the elegant variety is not always as easy as it sounds.
—DRESS MAGAZINE, DECEMBER1899
THERE WERE ONLY A FEW THINGS IN THE LITTLEcabin on the Keller lease, but what was there Will had made a point of acquiring for Elizabeth. In the middle of the dirt floor was a square table that Will had built, and over to the side was an old brass frame bed that he had bought off a wildcatter gone broke up in Lancaster, the same one who had sold them the horse. There was the brass-framed oval mirror that was hung over the tin water basin—both of the same provenance—and it was there that Elizabeth still arranged her hair before dinner every night, usually in a little bun high in the back, like the center of a pincushion. Hair done, water brought up from the well, she had now turned to a task she knew very little of. Elizabeth Holland was attempting, once again, to make dinner.
A clutch of the orange poppies that she had taken from the field yesterday sat in an old mason jar at the center of the table, which was covered with the same canvas they used for everything. Beside them was a little pile of Will’s books—Geological Techniques for Locating Petroleum Beneath the Earth’s SurfaceandHow a Man Digs a Well in the Wild.She had managed to get a fire going in the little iron stove in the corner, but opening the cans of baked beans was proving too difficult for her. The opener was rusted, and she suspected that Will had found it somewhere—a bit of thrift that she would have considered admirable at any other moment, but was currently so distressing to her that she wanted to scream.
This was in fact what she did next. She let out a cry that might very well have been—it occurred to her even as her throat began to vibrate and her lungs became empty of air—the loudest noise she’d ever personally made. When it was over she was still alone, although she felt better. She put her hand on her abdomen and closed her eyes. Her lips turned upward in a slight smile; it was, after all, amusing to think that she was so far away from all those fine things she’d so worked to be and finding herself unequal to even small tasks. To be incapable was as new to her as vociferous outbursts.
She put down the can and sat at the table. It was that part of the day when she usually became conscious of having been alone for a long stretch, after Will had stayed out in the field for many hours with Denny, the partner he’d found in Oakland. Those were hours beyond her realm, and she didn’t try to understand what they did out there. The world of labor had always been Will’s world, and a mystery to her, and whilethis had once seemed like a plain fact, it did make her feel a little guilty lately. She knew he had spent time setting up their home—which would have been a natural task for a different kind of girl—that he could have otherwise used to explore the field. Elizabeth wanted nothing more than to be with Will, but she couldn’t help but wish—at moments like these, late in the day, when, in New York, the sun would have already gone down—that she could better keep up with him. It was the perfect society girl in her, and she only longed to prepare a frontier supper with half the aplomb she used to deploy chatting with visitors on Sunday in her family drawing room.
She sat there for a while thinking of those people she’d left behind and of those several thousand miles that separated them. She wouldn’t miss them so if only she could see into their lives a little more, if only that distance were slightly more conquerable. Every now and then she would read a week-old newspaper that mentioned some New York news, but that mainly stoked her worry, for it was inevitably about how her mother wasn’t her old self or how Diana still was.
“Lizzy!” Will called before he was even through the door. Elizabeth looked up from the table, and already she was up in his arms. She was in the air and being swung around. Her arms were tight at his neck, and she clung to him, feeling again how right it was for her to be in this place at this time. She was taking in his scent—that mixture of sweat and plainsoap and some other musky quality just beyond her grasp—when he spoke in a quiet voice. “Today we had luck.”
He set her down, and as her feet touched the floor, she looked up into his face. It was full of sun and light, and his pale blue eyes looked lucky indeed. “What kind of luck?”
“Oil luck.” He paused and pressed his thick lips together and watched her. His breath made his chest rise and fall under the threadbare collared shirt rolled to his sleeves. His hair was dark from the sweat where it hadn’t been bleached by the sun. “Denny and I, we found it. We found oil—shiny, black oil. You can smell it out there. I just know there’s lakes of it underground. It’s seeping through the rocks. The air is full of sulfur. We’re going to follow what my book says and dig a well and sell it to the refinery in Lancaster, and then we’ll be able to hire more workers. For a while we’ll have to spend everything we make. But it’s right here—we’re just sitting on it, the thing that’s going to make us rich.”
Will had been speaking so quickly and with such excitement that he had to stop and take several breaths. But the energy was in his face and body; he was heaving with it. He took off the serge trousers, which he wore every day when he left home, because they were smeared with the sticky black stuff. He put on the long underwear he wore to sleep in, all the while telling her how oil was extracted and how much he thought would be there and what barrels of crude were sellingfor these days. She hung the trousers on the back of the bed, so they wouldn’t soil anything else, and watched Will as he went to open the can of beans and continued talking about the team he would need to hire and what the returns would be.
Elizabeth’s cheeks had risen in one of those radiant smiles that used to be wasted on brocade, or the gift bags at balls, or salmon mousse. She was surprised to find it was not for this mineral wealth, however—all that still seemed like some far-off fantasy. It was for Will as he would be. There would be successes, whether they began with the oil field or not, and after that he would become one of those men they wrote about in the adventure magazines—about his mythic youth and his great business acumen and all the intelligent choices he had made along the way. He would be shrewd and hard with people who needed it, but he would be fair and looked up to. He would be the head of a family, and he would help those people who were deserving and in need.
The softness would go out of his face, but the crooked nose would remain the same. They would grow older and see the world change together. They looked at each other for another long moment, and then she moved in, pressing her body against his body, feeling his heart beating in his chest.Seven
I have heard from several sources that Mr. Henry Schoonmaker will make his first social appearance since the death of his fiancée, Miss Elizabeth Holland, at the opening of the Metropolitan Opera’s winter season tonight. Though the proper mourning time has been observed, some suggest that he may be stepping out a little too soon….
—FROM THE “GAMESOMEGALLANT” COLUMN IN THENEW YORK IMPERIAL, SATURDAY, DECEMBER16, 1899
“YOU DON’T JUST THROW A PERSON THROUGH Acrack in the ice,” said Mrs. Edward Holland, who was born Louisa Gansevoort and still retained some of the inimitable social presence that the joining of those two surnames implied. She was garbed in black mourning clothes twice over, first for her husband and again for her elder child, and she sat in the corner of Diana’s gaslit bedroom with darting and watchful obsidian eyes. There was something physically reduced about her, however—a shadow had been cast over her former imperiousness. She was ill, Diana knew in certain moments, although in others she told herself it was no more than a mood that would be dispelled just as soon as Diana agreed to be married.
“Threwis rather an exaggeration,” Diana answered blithely. She was seated at the vanity, her attention fixed on the dark ringlets that edged her heart-shaped face and its wild-rose complexion. Her lady’s maid, Claire, who had been helping her get dressed, stood at her shoulder. Diana was notgoing to great lengths to seem interested in her mother’s concerns. “I can’t be held responsible for the clumsiness of a Percival Coddington,” she added, turning just slightly to meet the gaze of her aunt Edith, lounging on the bed with its pale pink headboard in an ivory shirtwast and skirt.
“It’s a miracle it didn’t make the papers,” her mother went on sharply. “Or that he wasn’t too severely injured. But there are plenty of eyes in this city, Diana, and plenty of mouths. They will be saying soon enough that you don’t know how to behave. Once a reputation has been too often confirmed, society cannot forget it.” Her eyes took on a faraway look, and she paused to sink deeper into the wing chair with the worn gold upholstery. It was the chair that Diana curled into when she stayed up reading novels of heroines beset by wickedly handsome men, and it was until recently the place of her most dramatic flights of fancy. But no longer. Recurrent memories of Henry Schoonmaker were the most exciting thing to happen in her conscious mind these days.
She smiled faintly at her reflection. Then, checking herself, she met Claire’s eyes in the mirror, and gave her a little look in anticipation of Mrs. Holland’s next argument.
“When I was a girl,” it began, “they used to tell us that a woman’s name should appear in the papers three times: on the occasions of her birth, her marriage, and her death.”
“Well,” said Edith, pushing her head back into the armthat was folded as a pillow behind her head, “our generation did away with that old adage.”
Diana’s name had already appeared in the columns several times—more often for something that brought embarrassment to her mother than not—but this did not stop an imaginary photograph of Henry and her descending the church steps from popping into her head under the banner headlineYOUNGER HOLLAND SISTER WEDS SCHOONMAKER.
Claire moved forward and finished Diana’s hair with a honeydew-colored ribbon that matched the honeydew dress she wore. The dress whittled her waist and revealed her clavicles and was decorated at the shoulders with little poofs of honeydew-dyed feathers. It was from Paris, and had been purchased by her sister during the previous summer season, which she had spent abroad. There had been a macabre element to the remaking of the departed sister’s dress, and no one had liked it. But there was no money for a new one, as her mother mechanically reminded her both by implication and outright, and in the end the tailoring had been ordered.
“If your name should appear in the papers after tonight,” Mrs. Holland returned, ignoring her sister-in-law’s comment, “let it not be because you have managed to half-kill Spencer Newburg.”
Diana stood at this and turned to her mother, her faceimbued with the curious light of two divergent emotions. She would have liked to tell the petite matriarch that if she was not so ham-fistedly trying to marry her daughter off, then she wouldn’t have to worry so for the safety of these gentlemen. This seemed irritatingly obvious enough to Diana. But the mention of Spencer Newburg’s name was like music. Not because of any innate characteristics possessed by Mr. Newburg, who was a widower of twenty-seven, and whose face, always long, had grown ever longer since the loss of young Mrs. Newburg to rheumatic fever. Still, the sound of his name had been sweet to Diana since that morning when she’d read the papers and realized that her evening of listening to opera with him would afford her the first chance to see Henry in weeks. Her heart thrilled at the thought that she might be under the same roof as him that night, that their eyes might meet, that perhaps their hands might even touch. Spencer Newburg’s bit part in all this afforded him a special grace.
Her mother rose from her chair now too. Stern veins stood out along her neck, and the bones of her face pressed against the skin.
“Anyway, Mrs. Gore is my host, and I’m not even sure I will meet Mr. Newburg,” Diana said, somewhat disingenuously. For though Mr. Newburg’s elder sister had been the one to officially invite her to sit in their family box, she had made clear on the two occasions she had visited the Hollands that itwas for her brother’s sake that Diana should come. Moreover, it was well known that Grover Gore’s wife had made it her mission for the season to find her brother a good match who might mend his broken heart. Mrs. Holland—it was not lost on her younger child—had been allied with the Gores for several decades. “But if I do, I will handle him delicately.”
The length of Mrs. Holland’s neck seemed to grow and her chin gestured toward the white plaster filigree of the ceiling. Diana watched her, waiting for some sort of rebuke, but the tension in her mother’s face disappeared then, and her whole body seemed to slacken. It was as though she were going to faint. “I think I’ll be going to bed,” she said abruptly. “Be good, Diana.”
She left a pall in the room even after the door had shut behind her. Diana blinked and then turned to her aunt. “Look, I frighten even my mother.”
“You look beautiful, Di,” Edith answered from the bed with a sympathetic little wink. The late Mr. Holland’s younger sister shared several facial features with her nieces, and had been known for being rather passionate in her youth. She had made a bad marriage to a titled Spaniard, which had ended in divorce, and she was now known by her maiden name. She had always liked sitting in while Diana played dress-up. “And I don’t think you have to worry about Mr. Newburg being the only one who notices,” she added with a purposeful inflectionthat made Diana wonder briefly how much her aunt intuited about her desires.
Diana leaned back into the mirror to check her reflection a final time, and found that she agreed that she wouldn’t have to count on Mr. Newburg alone for attention. Her eyes were hazy and dark, her mouth tiny and plump. The only anxiety she felt was that some of the loveliness might fade before she found Henry. She was in a fine mood again, and she maintained it by reminding herself that once her mother understood that Henry loved her and that she loved Henry, then all this anxious nonsense about a swift match would finally cease.
They arrived late to the Metropolitan Opera at Broadway and Fortieth, as was the prevailing custom of their class. The street was still crowded with carriages when Diana and Mrs. Gore alighted on the pavement and joined the other women in their brocade wraps making their way to the ladies’ entrance on the side. They missed the masked ball scene entirely but took their seats—happily enough for Diana—just as the baritone began “Mab, la Reine des Mensonges.” Her father, who cared deeply about such things in life, had considered Gounod’sRoméo et Juliettenot to his taste, but Diana liked any and all varieties ofstirring music, particularly when it touched on lovers cruelly divided by circumstance.
Diana’s gaze swept across the auditorium—the rows of seats below, the tiers of less-coveted boxes above, all filled with rich fabrics and bright jewels and flushed faces partially obscured by fans. She sat down beside Mrs. Gore, who wore a dress of blue velvet, which she filled out in a way that no one could have imagined when she was still lithe Lily Newburg. Her younger brother had said little on the way over, and did not now travel farther than the inner room of his family’s box, where he rested on the couch and smoked moodily.
His young guest did not pay him any mind. She could barely contain herself from leaning against the polished brass rail to look down on the stage below. The music was surging and lively; she had always liked the sad mystery of those words in Shakespeare, and she loved them now in opera, too. For a moment, with the rise and fall of the orchestra, the prospect of seeing Henry almost slipped from her mind. But only almost.
“I’d heard that Henry Schoonmaker was going to be out tonight,” her hostess said, lowering her diamond lorgnon from her eyes. “But I don’t see him in the Schoonmaker box.”
Diana felt the urge to lift her own glasses so she might investigate the view herself, but managed to replace the desire with a demure “Oh?”
“Pity your sister wasn’t able to marry him. He is a very charming, verymarriageableyoung man,” Mrs. Gore clucked, unaware of the wounding potential of this comment, so consumed was she by the wasted currency of a handsome groom without a bride. Then she brought the lorgnon back up to her nose and began to survey the other boxes, in which sat all the New Yorkers of their kind, spying on one another and looming over the stalls below, where a very different sort of people went to enjoy music.
“You know,” Mrs. Gore went on with the same tactlessness, “I heard a rumor that your sister hadn’t died at all, that there certainly would have been a body, and that none of the rest of the story adds up, and that she’s perhaps forgotten her identity or been taken up by a band of thieves…. I don’t suppose there’s any truth to it as far as your family knows?”
Diana shook her head faintly and resolved not to look in the direction of the Schoonmaker box for at least another ten minutes. She was trying to appear a little scandalized, in the hope that this would prevent any future speculations on the part of Mrs. Gore about Elizabeth not being dead. She kept her eyes focused on the stage, where Juliette had now entered with dark curls cascading down her back. The chandelier glittered from the center of the room, illuminating the many diamond tiaras and chokers in the boxes, complementing the sumptuous silks of the dresses and the pale skin of their wearers. Diana felt the glow upon her skin too, and longed to be looked at. And so, after the passing of a lonely minute, she found herself turning to her left to see that, in fact, the Schoonmaker box showcased only Mrs. Schoonmaker—resplendent in petal pink—and the dowdy visage of Henry’s younger sister, Prudence. There was nothing to suggest movement in the crimson penumbra behind them.
Diana looked away and tried not to feel disappointed. Her eyes were then drawn from the diva onstage, whose ample white bosom rose and fell with a passion that Diana felt sure she alone in the audience could comprehend, to the lithe form of Penelope Hayes a few boxes to their right.
The lids of her enormous blue eyes were lowered in ennui, and her head was tilted just slightly to the side. She wore a black aigrette in her hair and a dress of black jet that was trimmed with black ribbon at the décolletage. Her long white arms were folded at her lap in a prim way, which must have been part of the saintliness the gossip columns had recently made such point of. Nonetheless, Diana was reminded—as she always was when she saw Penelope—of how Henry had described her on the evening when they’d talked all night.Savagewas the word he’d used. Her sister, too, had warned her to watch out for Penelope. But what she felt at that moment was not distrust, but vulnerability.
For she could not help but think that Penelope, sitting inthe Hayes family box in the new black dress made especially for her, and her hair set high and back without a silly curlicue anywhere in sight, had known Henry much more than she had. Not better, perhaps, but for longer, and more physically. Down on the stage Roméo had espied Juliette; the tenor was singing of his instantaneous enchantment. Diana’s eyes drifted to the stage for only a moment, but when they returned to Penelope, an entirely different look had come over her face. The boredom was gone, and there was a confidence and purposefulness in every aspect of her pose. Just then a barely audible murmuring rose amongst the people in the boxes. The collective gaze had shifted to Diana’s left; she looked too, and that was when she saw him.
Henry was taking the seat directly behind his sister. His father moved, at a heavier and slower gait, to the seat beside him, a lumbering performance that was given little notice by the son.
“He does still look sad, I’ll give him that,” said Mrs. Gore, who had somehow restrained herself from using her glasses for a more privileged view. “But it does nothing to obscure his handsomeness, I’m sure you’d agree, even if he was nearly your brother.”
Diana could not find the breath to answer. Nor was she particularly cognizant of the movement in the back of the Newburgs’ box, where Webster Youngham, favored architectof New York’s nouveau riche, had appeared, diverting, for a moment at least, the attentions of Mrs. Gore.
“May I present Miss Holland,” Diana heard her hostess say. This meant that she must, reluctantly, look away from Henry, whose stiff white collar contrasted against his gold-touched skin. “The younger daughter of Mrs. Edward Holland.”
“Miss Holland,” Mr. Youngham said, kissing her hand. “My condolences for your sister. What a surprise to see you out and about. But I will have to send my compliments to your mother—you are just as lovely as I have always heard.”
Diana smiled and lowered her eyes. Back in September she had kissed his assistant in the coatroom during a ball at the new Hayes mansion—a fact she was pretty sure he was unaware of, given his consumption of wine that evening. Of course, that had been before her whole world changed. She peeked in the direction of the Hayeses’ box, and found to her dismay that Penelope was gazing across the opera house with the same imperturbable erectness as before.
The murmuring in the boxes had either died down or been buried by the music, which was now loud again. Diana turned, nodding to their visitor as she did. “You must excuse me for a moment—the music is a little much for me,” she lied.
As she moved away from her seat, she looked back once,and saw that Henry’s face was turned in her direction. She went faster now, up into the inner box—where Mr. Newburg’s eyes fluttered open long enough to give her a reproachful look—and then up into the curving corridor. It was dark, illuminated occasionally by dim wall sconces, and she passed only one or two men making their little visits to their friends’ boxes. The corridor brought her around quickly to Box 23, which she knew from the program was the one occupied by the Schoonmakers that season. She paused there to smooth herself over, but already the crimson curtain was being drawn back from the other side.
The shadows fell across his fine, sculptured features, and she could scarcely see his eyes or what was in them. Her chest was as loud as a steam train in her ears. In her imaginings she and Henry had been as intimate as two people had ever been, and so she whispered the line that she had practiced for the last two months:
“I was wondering, Mr. Schoonmaker, when I might again have the pleasure of visiting your greenhouse.” Her voice was as faint and delicate as she had ever heard it; the wordgreenhousewas lush in her pronunciation. It had been a word with magical connotations for her ever since she had spent the night in his.
“Di…” Henry began at last. She took a little step forward and smiled just slightly in hope that he might return thegesture, might confirm how fully her memory had obsessed him. But her footing was off. “Miss Diana.” His voice grew quieter with every word. She noticed that his standing collar was so high that he could not comfortably hang his head. “You know that cannot be.”
Suddenly the floorboards below her, the gallery underneath, the subterranean caves holding props and rats and who knew what else—none of it was steady. A heat had come into Diana’s cheeks, and she thought of the blue-eyed sureness with which Penelope had looked across the house. “I don’t understand,” she whispered.
“Perhaps you thought we might—” Henry broke off again, and shook his head as though he were shaking away a fly. There was coldness in his voice when he spoke again: “But you can’t think that anymore. No matter what pretty things I said to you, you must know now that they can never come to…fruition.”
Diana frowned at the curious formality of his phrasing and took a step backward. Henry had had several lovers, by his own admission, and Diana felt herself suddenly to be one of many. She wasn’t even sure anymore if she could technically becalledone of his lovers. “Is this because of Penelope?”
Henry’s brow relaxed and he almost smiled. “No…not at all. Why would you…? No.”
Every word was a struggle for breath “Then why…?”
“I meant all those things, Di.” Henry reached and took her hand, which did nothing to bridge the already impassable distance she felt between them. He was a charmer—of course he would try out all his charming gestures on her now. “It’s not Penelope. It’s not any other girl. But it would be wrong. You might think you wouldn’t care about the impropriety now, but I was your sister’s fiancé. And your sister”—here he closed his eyes and swallowed—“is dead.”
As Henry trailed off, his friend Teddy Cutting appeared in the corridor. He had been Elizabeth’s friend, too, Diana knew. His blond hair was parted at one side and slicked to the other, and he came upon them slowly and with a look of concerned disapproval in his face.
“But…” Diana stopped herself and the flicker of a smile was put out on her face.But Elizabeth isn’t dead,she wanted to tell Henry. She would have liked to shout it. She couldn’t, of course—she had promised her sister that she wouldn’t tell. Telling would ruin everything for Liz.
It was the entr’acte, and now there were dozens of men wearing their black waistcoats passing through the halls on visits of all kinds. Their cigar smoke had filtered out with them. When she felt Henry withdraw his hand she knew there was nothing else for her but retreat. She turned quickly enough, she hoped, that neither man saw the fallen expression on her face.
Diana walked as proudly as she could in the direction of the Newburg box, though she knew already her capacity for smiling was entirely gone. The dress swerved behind her; it had so recently seemed to make her beautiful, but now it was an enormous encumbrance. Weeks of heightened anticipation had been decimated in mere moments, but as she took her seat she felt mainly stung.
Later, at night, in her own room, with the salmon damask darkest in the places from which pictures frames had disappeared, she would see how far this unraveled all her hopes, all the assumptions on which she had based her idea of the future. Only then would she begin to feel so awful and desperate that it was as though, curiously, an enormous cavity had formed within her that could never possibly be filled.
For now, sitting in the opera house, numb to the vibrations of the music, she thought of her mother, and lowered her eyes, and hid her wounded pride. She murmured demurely, just as Mrs. Holland would have liked, for Mr. Newburg and Mrs. Gore and all the rounds of guests who came to their precious opera box. On stage Roméo began to sing, “L’amour, l’amour!” but her enjoyment of the music was entirely gone.Eight
Men at the opera are always promiscuous with their visiting of other people’s boxes. It is one of the things that make such evenings tolerable.
—MAEVE DE JONG,LOVE AND OTHER FOLLIES OF THE GREAT FAMILIES OF OLD NEW YORK
HENRY HAD WATCHED DIANA’S STUBBORN LITTLEwalk as she went away from him before, but he did not find any humor in it now. There had been other women, too, who had walked away from him, but at that point Henry had always already become bored with them and found his gaze focused in some new, more desirable direction. He didn’t want to look away now and so remained still, experiencing a sensation of loss that was new to him, and pitiful. He was grateful that Teddy, still at his side, allowed the moment to come to its sad end without words. The taste in his mouth was unbearably bitter.
Men in high collars and white tie were emerging from the boxes, and he realized that they must have reached the entr’acte. The men were off to find themselves a drink or perhaps a female companion whose delicate feelings, moved by the sweep of music, left her open to sweet-talking advances.
“Shall we?” Henry said, turning and meeting Teddy’s sea gray eyes.
“Shall we what?” Teddy answered.
There was a certain involuntary violence to the shrug of Henry’s shoulders that followed. He had never in his life experienced such a disconnect between the thing he wanted to do and the thing that he did do; for him his desires had always been a kind of moral compass that led him happily, unquestioningly, to ever more fantastic locations. He was not, like the stage hero, a lover of love. He had sought novelty and good times from his affairs. But in Diana he had found an object for his affections who was earthly beautiful but still light as air. She was as quick and ever changing and as game for anything as he was, but he had dismissed her, and she had not done anything to protest.
“To the bar?” was his eventual answer, and Teddy, like the old friend he was, led him there. The little bar was tucked in the back of the gentlemen’s smoking lounge, and old Sam with the drooping mustache waited there under the globe lights in his paisley waistcoat and black bow tie to give refugees from the chatter and surveillance of the boxes their much-needed respite.
“Two whiskey and waters,” Teddy said as they approached.
“No water for me.”
“All right, Mr. Schoonmaker,” Sam answered, with a knowing look. “Mr. Cutting, should I charge this to your box?”
“Yes, Sam, thank you.”
They leaned against the bar, and when their drinks came they raised them up. Henry sensed that Teddy wanted to say something, and after he’d placed the glass down on the bar and gestured for a refill, he turned to his friend. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
Teddy ignored the irritation in Henry’s voice and responded with characteristic mildness. “You did the right thing.”
Henry nodded stiffly, conveying neither conviction nor disagreement. He would have to take Teddy’s word for it, since he himself had little to no experience with doing the right thing. He knew it didn’tfeelgood, though. Doing right was supposed to be its own reward, that was what his governesses always told him; it was supposed to fill one with inner light.
“It’s a simple thing for a man to forget his nature,” Teddy was saying, “to get lost in the present and forget how he was, and how he will be. But I know you, and I’m here to remind you what you’re like. You lose interest, Henry. Whatever you feel for Diana now, the chances that it will fade…and what will be left of her spirit when it does…you could ruin the Hollands, Henry, if you’re not careful.”
Henry acknowledged Sam as his glass was refilled. “You don’t know that.”
“No, I don’t,” Teddy said. He was rushing his words,and Henry knew that he felt bad. He was trying to justify it for both of them. “But I’m being cautious for you. You might think it could be all fun and games, but the way you’re connected…She’d need more from you than the random girl who catches your eye. There will be others, Henry, and if we were betting on it, my money’d be on your attention span for women growing shorter and not the other way around.”
Henry drank. He couldn’t argue with this, because it was speculative, and for a moment it even gave him heart. Indeed, his attention to any particular girl was famously short, and soon enough the rotten feeling he was currently experiencing would wane. There would be other distractions, and his life—the one he’d had before he became engaged to Elizabeth Holland—would resume. But, like the suggestion that he had done right, this line of thinking led nowhere, and he was left with the same desire to go to Diana and tell her he’d been an ass, that he hardly knew himself, that she had to forgive him, and a million other little thoughts that popped into his head.
“Elizabeth had restraint, but Diana’s too hot. If you make her love you, Henry, there’s no telling—”
“Teddy, can’t we just…” Henry interrupted, gesturing at the refilled glass at his elbow. It was his third or his fourth, he couldn’t remember anymore.
They clinked classes dully and then finished the drinksin silence. The third act had already begun by the time they stumbled back to Box 23. The visiting between the boxes was in full swing, and no one was pretending to listen to the music anymore, except perhaps Diana Holland, situated with the Newburgs, whose box was in the middle of the grand horseshoe of boxes, on the first tier, where all the people like them sat. She inclined forward slightly, her shoulders uneven, her lips slightly parted, and she gazed at the singers on stage as though they were the ones responsible for crushing her heart.
Teddy was sitting behind Prudie and dutifully trying to make small talk, which was what Henry had told him he should do before they left the gentlemen’s salon. Prudence had recently turned seventeen, and it hadn’t made her any prettier—her appearance as well as her manners suggested many hours spent out of sunlight. Her replies were largely composed of single words, and Henry wondered if he had encouraged this particular conversation as some sort of punishment for Teddy. If his friend thought so, he certainly didn’t show it, and when he leaned back into his chair, he turned to Henry and said lightly, “Your sister does know a lot about the stage.”
Prudence turned her feral, dark eyes at Henry, making sure he’d caught that last bit.
Henry, who was having trouble focusing his eyes after the whiskey, murmured his assent. Then he looked across thegreat auditorium and saw Penelope Hayes. She was looking at him with a whisper of a smile, and when she saw that his gaze had fallen on her, she raised her eagle feather fan to the level of her eyes and beat it several times. He looked beyond her, down the wide vista of boxes, where ladies in pairs whispered to each other behind fans or peered through opera glasses while their male escorts, standing behind, offered dry asides. They were looking at him, he felt, scrutinizing him to see whether he looked sad enough about Elizabeth, wondering how broken he was, how long until they could again return to the epic topic of who would marry into the Schoonmaker fortune.
Henry raised his hand in what he intended as a sarcastic gesture, and called out “Hello!” loud enough for the Schoonmakers’ neighbors to hear. It was a cry for something Henry could scarcely begin to identify, but it didn’t really matter, since onstage the performance continued, and in the seats around him there was only silence.Nine
Won’t you pay a visit to my box tonight?
“WAS THAT FOR ME?” PENELOPE WHISPERED. SHEdidn’t waste time turning toward the person for whom her question was intended. She looked instead across the opera house at Henry, who had just called out a hello loud enough for all the people in private boxes to hear. He’d slumped back into his chair now and, as his gaze was focused on the arms he’d folded across his chest, there was no way to determine whom he’d meant to address.
“Perhaps,” Buck answered. He was sitting in the seat just behind Penelope, to the right of her grandfather Ogden, who could no longer hear well enough to appreciate the music, but whose eyesight was sharp enough—when he wasn’t drowsing—to comment authoritatively on all the best bosoms in the house. He had never bothered learning the table manners of the Manhattan upper class, despite his lifelong effort to join it, but he had seen that the fault was corrected in his son. Richmond Hayes, Penelope’s father, had been a quick study in business as well as personal comportment, which was whyhe stayed in the inner box at the opera—or better yet, in the gentlemen’s smoking room—and kept his eyes to himself.
“No, it wasn’t—you’re a horrid yes-man,” Penelope lashed back affectionately. “He’s just giving everyone something to talk about.”
“Is that what you children call it these days?” said Mrs. Hayes, who sat beside her daughter along the rail. For a moment Penelope just looked at her mother in surprise—she was usually too concerned with what other people were doing to listen in on her daughter’s conversations—but then the older woman’s opera glasses were back to her busy little eyes, and she was again looking for some glimmer of scandal out in the audience. Penelope reflected for a moment on the unfortunate number of chins possessed by her mother, on the lackluster quality of her hair that was the result of many years of dyeing it, and on the garish appearance of her too-made-up face.
“Giving all ofthemsomething to talk about, I should say.” Penelope lowered her eyes and tried to force a blush. Her skin had the sheen of china naturally, and embarrassment was not a feeling easily induced in her, but after a few moments she managed something like a petal shade to rise in her sharp cheekbones—not much, but enough, so that if the right matron were looking through her eyeglasses at just that moment, she’d see how ashamed young Miss Hayes was ofher grotesque mother. Or the right gossip columnist, for that matter. Then she twisted around and directed her words into her fan. “Buck, could you do me an itty-bitty favor?”
“But of course.”
She had written the note hours ago—in fact, she had written it four times, trying to make sure that the paper looked casually ripped enough, that her penmanship was clear enough not to be misunderstood while still suggesting spontaneity. As she had pressed her pen down to produce each letter of those nine little words, she had thought of him. Now she palmed it, and reached behind her to take Buck’s hand in hers.
“Please take this to Box 23,” she whispered.
Buck inclined his head gently and rose up behind her. Just before he blocked her view of the doings in the inner box, she saw a young man in a black jacket and wing collar enter. She knew it was Henry, come to save her the trouble of sending Buck around with notes, and the skin of her shoulders tingled. But then a second passed and she saw clearly that the features above the little white bow tie belonged—horribly—to Amos Vreewold.
“Mr. Vreewold,” Buck was saying. “I have a few visits I have to make. Please take my seat and keep Miss Hayes company.”
Amos shook Buck’s hand, and then refocused his slightlydownturned eyes on Penelope. He was tall and possessed of a prominent nose that swelled at the center. His dark hair never seemed to agree on quite which direction it was going. There had been a time—a long time ago, it seemed now—when he and Penelope had occasionally disappeared behind trees at garden parties together, and so there was plenty of reason for him to be looking at her that way, as though her demure posturing were for his own particular amusement. Still, his familiarity irritated her; she extended her arm in his direction.
“Miss Hayes, it is always a pleasure,” he said, bending to kiss her hand. He sat down behind her, with a flourish of tails, in the seat where Buck had so recently been. “Mrs. Hayes, you are looking lovely this evening,” he added, though she was wearing a dress of red satin that, in her daughter’s and everybody else’s opinion, clung unflatteringly to an excess of flesh.
“Thank you, Amos,” Penelope’s mother said, without looking away from her opera-glass view. “Is that stomacher on your mother made of real diamonds?”
“Oh, yes,” he answered, managing somehow to keep his smirk brief.
Penelope pitied herself that her new persona did not allow for public rudeness to her mother and smiled dewily up at her visitor. “Mr. Vreewold, whatever brings you to our box?”
“Why, you, of course. I haven’t seen you out and looking so beautiful since the unfortunate events of October.”
“No, I suppose you haven’t.”
“You must have been very stricken—that’s what they all say.”
“Well,” Penelope turned her eyes back to the stage in a delicate, pained sweep. “I was.”
“If you are ever in need of someone to remember Elizabeth with…”
Penelope manufactured a little choking sniff. “Thank you.”
“I hear other things, as well….”
Penelope managed to keep her head steady and her gaze on the stage, though she could not help a little shine coming back into her wide blue eyes.
“Yes, all the girls are talking about it. About how brokenhearted Henry is and how melancholy you are, and how it would be the perfect end in a novel if you were to end up married to him. My sister has sent me round to find out of it’s true.” He leaned forward here, and spoke the next bit into her ear. “I was hoping not.”
Penelope brought her fan up over her smile and hoped that the warm feeling of triumph that this had provoked in her was not somehow evident in her posture. “Of course not,” she replied in a lowered voice. “It is awfully inappropriate of you to talk so soon of any romance concerning Henry Schoonmaker.”
Here her mother’s small eyes shifted in her daughter’s direction, and Penelope experienced a moment of conflicting emotions. For she knew that this rumor, so satisfying to her ears, was also satisfying to her mother’s sense of social ambition, and she found herself inwardly joyful and irritated over the same tidbit.
“All right, then. We’ll talk of something else,” Amos answered mildly as he leaned back in his seat without the smallest sign of discomfort. And then he did: of hunting dogs and notched lapels, which only reminded Penelope why she had tired of him in the first place. As he droned on, as her mother winked her little eyelids mercilessly at anyone who met her stare, Penelope saw, in the far corner of her vision, that Buck had entered Box 23. She innocently raised her glasses to her face. It was the first time she had indulged the impulse all night, and it took her a few moments—in which she was terrified she’d miss everything—to find the pertinent box in the magnified view.
Then she had Henry very close indeed, framed in a black circle. She watched him greet Buck with characteristic aloofness. Her view was too narrow to know when the note exchanged hands, and Henry must have maintained a straight face as he opened it, because even when he lowered his gaze, he registered no change in expression. But she knew when he realized who its author was, because at that moment he looked up and directly at her.
Penelope let out a tiny involuntary gasp and dropped her opera glasses into her lap, which did nothing to prevent her viewing what happened next. Henry raised his hand to dismiss Buck without even looking him in the eyes and then, his gaze still focused on Penelope, he shook his head twice slowly. He might as well have ripped the little note to shreds. It felt as though he’d slapped her in the face.
“I had better be on my way…” she heard Amos say.
Though his presence had receded in her consciousness, she was deeply sorry to hear this. She felt suddenly the importance of Henry, and everybody else, seeing her receive the attentions of bachelors, especially those with old Dutch names and new industrial money. Her whole campaign to seem like a potential bride was forgotten in the wake of Henry’s snub. Now all she wanted was to seem an object of desire. But Amos was standing. He had taken her hand to kiss it good-bye.
“Thank you for visiting,” she said, fighting to maintain a quiet frailty. “What a relief to have friends like you at times like these.”
Amos winked at her, which was not the response she had intended to elicit, and then said a few words to Mrs. Hayes before absenting himself from their box. Penelope tried to lean in the opposite direction of her mother, making the most of the advantageous shadows falling across her pale, soft chest.She directed her face to one corner of the stage so that she could sneak a few looks over at the Schoonmakers.
She wanted badly to seem elegant and aloof, but there was something like a fever of urgency inside of her that she couldn’t bring down. She put one hand over the other in her lap and then reversed them. It would be forever before Buck could make his way back through the corridor and tell her exactly what had happened. But she could see for herself and she knew plenty already. Henry wasn’t understanding her plan; he was indifferent to her artful maneuvers. She rearranged her hands again and then fidgeted with the gold chain of her opera glasses until her mother told her to stop, which she did.
“It’s official. There are many fine gowns in the audience this evening, but none as fine as those seen in the Hayeses’ box,” Buck said when he eventually retook his seat. Penelope sensed that he had more compliments at the ready, but she signaled their superfluity with her hand. What did it matter anyway that she was so much lovelier than the other girls when Henry was so blind. The wretched tick of her heart was unbearably loud in her ears, but she could not fidget and she could not frown. She was realizing for the first time in her life what agony it was to experience such unquiet beneath an impeccable veneer.
With the opening of the opera tonight, we can again expect to see many of the city’s most lamentable invalids, those suffering from that insidious disease calledsocial aspirations,who will no doubt be trying to elbow their way into making new friends in high places by renting a box, no matter the cost, as have so many strivers before them. We can at least be assured that the crowd they move in is already inoculated.
—FROM THE SOCIETY PAGE OF THENEW-YORK NEWS OF THE WORLD GAZETTE, SATURDAY, DECEMBER16, 1899
“AND WHO IS THIS?”
Lina put away the view through her opera glasses—which held Vanderbilts and Livingstons and Vreewolds, not to mention gowns by Worth and Doucet, and diamond tiaras, and gentlemen pouring sweet words into the pink-tipped ears of ladies whose names were always in the columns—and turned to see the new arrivals in Mr. Longhorn’s box. They were hovering over her in their black jackets and white ties, their beards flecked with gray. They were not, she was a little sad to realize, her peers.
“I present to you Miss Broud, a new addition to our fine city,” Mr. Longhorn said with a little flourish. “She comes to us from out west.”
Lina lowered her eyelids and hoped that he had not mentioned her geographic origins to account for a dress that was clearly out of date. It used to belong, like all her dresses, to Penelope Hayes; it was of blue chiffon and flounced around her shoulders and neckline in tiers. The color complementedher skin and hair, at least, and now that she’d altered it, the skirt swerved elegantly down past her toes. She had had to borrow one of the laundry girls to help her with the corset, explaining again that she simply could not find a maid whose manners she approved of.
“This is Lispenard Bradley, the painter,” Mr. Longhorn went on, indicating the taller of the two men, who was also the one in the brighter shirt. “And this is Ethan Hall Smith.”
Lina smiled a little at the visitors and did her best to appear shy, which was more or less the case. She could not help but feel a little quiet surrounded by people who ordered girls like her around from their first waking moments, though shyness was also a precautionary measure to keep her from saying anything that might betray the truth of her biography. Her older sister, Claire, who still worked for the Hollands, loved to read about such scenes in the newspaper, but Lina knew it would be even better if she got to hear about it firsthand. So she concentrated on silently collecting anecdotes.
She turned away from the men bashfully—although she was pleasantly aware that they continued to look at her—and rested a bony elbow on the brass rail. Down below her, on the first floor of the opera house, were all those people in rows. Only a few weeks ago—perhaps only a few hours ago—they had been her betters. And now she floated above them, watching and being watched on another tier. She could almost feelthe warm embrace of a highborn viewership; all around her they were looking and wondering who she was.
“Perhaps I may paint your portrait someday?” Mr. Bradley leaned toward her from where he stood, at the entrance to the inner box. He smiled and his mustache spread toward his ears. “You have a most unique look.”
“Thank you,” Lina answered. The idea of a rendering of her features on canvas was almost too grand to get hold of, though a practical element did enter her thoughts: She would need a new dress for that, too. She remembered quite exactly how Elizabeth always wore a new dress for a sitting. “I’d like it very much.”
Mr. Bradley nodded as though to say it were confirmed, and from the expression on his face Lina could see that he liked the idea of it. There was a silence that followed in which the four people in Mr. Longhorn’s box looked from one to the other, and though they were all smiles and the general mood never reached a level of awkwardness, Lina began to feel just slightly exposed. After all, the great Elizabeth Holland would certainly not have appeared in a venue like this with three men and no chaperone. Perhaps Mr. Longhorn, who was of an older generation, might be considered a chaperone of a kind; yet her instincts told her that now was the time to rise, make a demure little gesture, and go to the ladies’ lounge for a while.
Mr. Longhorn and his friends responded with loud encouragements for her to stay, and she promised a quick return. As she walked, at an even, straight-backed gait, she congratulated herself on knowing when to absent herself, when to make herself rare. She was developing the instincts of a lady—that was what Elizabeth had possessed, the thing that had drawn Will to her. But Liz was dead, and Lina was learning more every day, and when she saw Will next, she would have that something, and it would draw him to her instead.
If she had imagined that she would get to practice her new mien in the ladies’ lounge, however, she was disabused of the notion upon entering it. The women who rested there, on low velvet couches, glanced up at her entrance and cast looks in her direction that were quite the opposite of the appreciative glances she had received from Mr. Longhorn’s friends. Their expressions were blank and their shoulders turned away from her at unwelcoming angles. The color rose in Lina’s cheeks, and she found herself for the first time longing for the invisibility that came with being a lady’s maid. Her mouth opened, but then she realized that she didn’t even begin to know how she should start a conversation with any of these women. She was an outsider again.
“Excuse me,” Lina heard herself say. There was a heat rising in her chest, under all those layers of dress and underthings.
A woman in pale red with fluffy blond hair and black lashes pushed herself up on her elbow and said, “Are you lost?”
Lina’s blush flamed up, and when she heard the twitters this inspired, she decided to leave. She had only just turned her back on the laughter, however, when another girl came rushing through the heavy damask curtains and ran full into her.
“Oh,” Diana Holland said. She appeared stricken—Lina noticed that even as her own breath shortened and she began to realize, with no small amount of agitation, how one mistake had piled on another. Diana’s expression had already changed into one of recognition; in a moment, the truth would be out. Then the younger Miss Holland—the only Miss Holland—blinked and looked out at the other ladies, and when she looked back at Lina her expression had changed again. “Oh…I was hoping I would run into you,” she said loudly as she took Lina’s arm and steered her toward a private little settee covered by silk cushions in the corner.
Lina’s breath came back to her as she sat. She might have felt relief if she hadn’t been so confused. There was a long pause in which Diana closed her eyes and let some private pain pass across her features. She was wearing a dress of pastel green that Lina remembered unpacking from Elizabeth’s trunk upon her return from Paris at the end of the summer, and her brown curls were falling out of place as usual. WhenDiana’s lids fluttered open again, she didn’t look exactly overjoyed, but there was a certain gladness in her expression.
“Oh, Lina,” she said quietly. “I’m so happy to see a friendly face right now. But what are you doing here?”
“I’m a guest.” Lina looked out across the room and saw that several ladies were pretending not to watch them. They were all far away enough, however, that if she kept her voice low she wouldn’t be heard. “Of Mr. Longhorn’s.”
“Carey Lewis Longhorn?” Diana asked, her eyebrows arcing upward.
“Yes, and actually”—here Lina’s voice broke a little, though she forced herself to push on—“I like to be called Carolina now, if you don’t mind. It’s my given name, what they call me out west, where I’m from,” she concluded, her voice now becoming almost inaudible. She willed Diana to understand her intent and play along.
The light danced in Diana’s wide, dark pupils. The women across the room shifted in their seats, rustling their gowns and murmuring to one another. “I like the sound of that better, actually,” Diana said after several moments.
“You do?” Lina tried to look more serious than surprised, though she had in truth lost all sense of what her face must look like. She had left the Hollands on the worst possible terms, and though she and Diana had never fought, she had also never considered that the younger Holland might have anopinion about Lina that was separate from her sister’s. “Father was in copper smelting, out west,” she heard herself say, “but they’re both dead now. That’s why I came here.”
“Ah, yes, I remember.” Diana nodded seriously. “You met my sister, Elizabeth, in Paris—she told me your story.”
“Yes.” Lina hurried to make herself say a phrase she never thought she’d utter: “Dear Elizabeth.”
“You’re like the heroine of some novel.” Diana paused thoughtfully and took Lina’s hand. “Be careful of the tragic fall at the end, though—anyone who rises too quickly is supposed to get one, and I wouldn’t want that for you.”
“Thank you, Miss….” As Lina trailed off she noticed that one of the ladies across the room, who was dressed in spangled gold satin, was smiling at her. Diana was being so nice about everything, Lina almost wanted to tell her about the rest of her plan, and meeting Will. But some superstition rose in her, and she decided she might jinx it if she revealed too much. “Thank you, Di.”
Diana leaned her head of curls back against the cushions, but Lina could not possibly help but look across the room of women who a moment ago had been thinking unkind thoughts about her and now considered her one of them. She was overcome by the frightening exhilaration of having gotten away with something that was near impossible.
In an instant she was brought back to a luxury store forladies of years ago where her mother, when she was the Holland girls’ governess, used to run errands. On one occasion Lina had been so taken with a set of hair combs that they had appeared in her dreams, and on the next trip to the store, she had reached out and tried to grasp them from the display table. She had been too furtive, too uncalculating, to grab both, but it hardly mattered. The thrill she’d felt on possessing even one of those gilt filigreed objects could not possibly have been increased by the finding of a practical use for it. She would sneak little looks at the glittering comb from time to time, when she was alone, and the sight of it always inspired that same dangerous sensation inside of her. It was the same with her now, except that the feeling was more tangible and the thing she had gotten away with far more important.
She carried the feeling with her back to Mr. Longhorn’s box, after she and Diana had parted in the hall, where he continued to introduce her to whatever friends stopped by even as the performers below reached their sad, feverish end. She could see her prettiness reflected in these visitors’ eyes, and knew that she would appear that way to Will when she was with him next. Lina’s confidence grew with her sense of elation, and she felt even more acutely the glimmering golden light of the chandelier as it fell across her forehead and clavicles, the gay fizz of the champagne that Mr. Longhorn served her, the vast grandeur of the auditorium, which already felt like one of herplaces. She had been a success at the opera—it was almost like an object she could hold, a piece of evidence that suggested she might almost be ready to go west.
“Thank you, Mr. Longhorn,” she said when she had finally, regretfully reached the door to her room in the Netherland.
“It is I who should thank you,” he answered, with a gallant tip of the head and a kiss on her gloved hand. He stood back and waited, with the lines from his nostrils to the corners of his mouth becoming a little extra pronounced and a sharp twinkle in his eye. She smiled back at him—she could hardly have stopped—before slipping past the door.
The night was still far too vivid for her to have slept, but that wouldn’t have happened anyway. No sooner had the lock turned in its groove did she became aware of a scene that would haunt any potential dreams. The magical transformation of her room had occurred—the bed made up, the floor swept, her breakfast things long gone and fresh flowers appeared in their place—but there was still one troubling detail.
Her little silk purse with the leather drawstring was lying in the middle of the floor. The purse itself never moved from the drawer in her wardrobe, where it slept under a heap of stockings, but there it was, on the plum-colored rug, perfectly evident under the bright new electric lights. She might have dashed to it, in the hope that everything could be explained by absentmindedness, but she knew already that its contents were gone.Eleven
A great many servants are necessary to run an elegant house these days, and in New York a fleet of twelve is considered rather modest. Those unfortunate ladies who make do with fewer—or, heaven forbid, can only support one or two—must expect that they will take on some of the housework themselves.
—LADIES’ STYLE MONTHLY, DECEMBER1899
DIANA WOKE ON THE MORNING FOLLOWING THEopera with the same feeling of emptiness and a need for a several other things besides. Her mouth was dry and her hair was a fright, and she didn’t feel that it was at all within her power to make the bed. Ordinarily Claire, in her capacity as Diana’s lady’s maid, would have brought her water and hot chocolate in the morning, but that whole routine seemed a little silly once their money started running out and they were forced to let some servants go. Mrs. Holland still viewed Will’s disappearance as a defection based on some knowledge of the family finances, and since then they had had to let go of their laundress and scullery girl; and Mr. and Mrs. Faber, who had been the butler and head housekeeper, respectively, had left only last week when it had become apparent that payment would be from then on an uncertain prospect. With all the extra work this made for Claire, Diana had heroically relieved her of any extraneous cosseting duties.
But on this Sunday morning, Diana did not feel in theleast bit heroic. She didn’t feel like anything. The sensation of being hollow showed no signs of abating, and even so, eating was not among her multitude of wants. She wanted water, she wanted to look pretty, she wanted to be embraced and petted. Though she did not want to see Henry in the least—the very idea made her stomach feel weak and her eyes burn—she would have liked a better explanation of the rejection he had served her the previous night. She would gladly have had something that sounded like good news to share with her mother. But most of all she longed for her older sister, who had so often been an aloof, judgmental girl when she had still lived in the Holland house, but who now seemed like the only person really qualified to assess Diana’s situation.
Eventually Diana forced herself up. She found some strength and used it to make herself look presentable. She put on a long black skirt and an ivory shirtwaist with tiny pearl buttons—a uniform that would have made any girl less combustible than Diana look put together. But her character was of the sort not easily dominated by clothes, and so it was in a mildly disheveled state that she went down the main stairs of her family town house and into the shadowy tranquility of the front hall. The Persian carpets that ran down the stairs to the front door remained, though many of the little pictures that had once dotted the walls had been removed, leaving sad little holes in their place. At that very moment there were severalframes stacked near the front entrance, a sure sign that the dealer would be by again soon.
Not long ago, the selling of material objects had seemed to Diana a romantic shedding of things, a return to essentials, but her mind had since changed. It had been easy to be careless about things when she thought she had the love of Henry Schoonmaker; she saw that the disappearance of bric-a-brac was a more painful business now. Such were her thoughts as she drew back the heavy, polished pocket door, which caught a little in its track, and entered her family’s parlor.
“Good morning,” her aunt Edith said, standing upon Diana’s entrance. She was wearing an old white dress with a narrow waist and somewhat more volume in the rear than was the fashion anymore. It caused Diana to imagine Edith as a young woman, when her hair still fell in dark little curls and when she still thought of the world as wide with possibilities.
“Good morning,” Diana answered, crossing to the little grouping of bergère chairs where her aunt had been sitting with a tray of tea things.
“You had better go straight up to your mother.” Aunt Edith’s eyes shifted downward, as though she disliked dwelling on what she was about to express. “You know she sometimes tends to the dramatic, but she has a bad look about her.”
“Oh,” Diana said, receiving this comment as more of a rebuke than it had been intended.
If she had been looking more closely, she might have seen that her aunt’s face in fact showed signs of real fear and distress for her sister-in-law. Although Edith did not share her brother’s wife’s love for a rigid social code, the women had been living under the same roof for some years and had come to a kind of mutual understanding. For Mrs. Holland’s part, she had always liked Edith as much as she liked anyone possessed of an important surname and a much-admired face, and of course she believed, like all the Old New York people, that family should have a united front and that any differences were to be kept to oneself.
“Is she ill?” Diana asked after a pause. She was thinking of how little she had tried to engage Spencer Newburg last night, and how casually she had dispensed with Percival Coddington the day before, with a tinge of regret. Of course she could never love either of them. But the idea of having disregarded her mother’s desires so completely seemed less funny today.
“I don’t know.” Edith observed Diana and spoke slowly. “She just says that she can’t leave the bed. I think you had better go now.”
Diana nodded, though her feet were heavy. When she had at last reached the door, Edith added: “Don’t forget to tell her how much you charmed Mr. Newburg.”
The way the older woman continued to look at her—hopefully, encouragingly—made Diana wonder, as she lingered on the threshold, if she looked as much like a girl in trouble as she was. For it was beginning to dawn on her, despite the clamoring of her wounded feelings, that if Henry wasn’t as in love with her as she had thought—if he wasn’t in love with her at all—then she was going to have to face some truly unappealing choices.
It had never taken her so long to climb those stairs, and when she reached the second floor she slowed to a stop. The heavy carved door to her mother’s room was ajar, and she could see the diffuse light coming through the crack.
“Diana…?” her mother called from inside the bedroom. Diana stepped forward. She leaned against the door and peeked past it. Her mother’s eyes were closed and her head rested back against a pile of white pillows. Her hair, which was usually so carefully arranged, if not also covered by a widow’s cap, now streamed down across her shoulders. Her face was very pale. “Are you there?” she called again, her voice still a little sharp even when it strained.
A kind of agitation had come over Diana, and she knew that she couldn’t face her mother. She was being counted on to give assurances, but the reality of Henry not loving her was too new for her to hide; the rawness of her abject position would foil any attempts to conceal it.
Elizabeth would have been able to maintain a façade.Elizabeth would have put her mother’s mind at ease, however temporarily. Diana, doubtful of her ability to do either of these things to even a slight degree, was already hurrying down the stairs. She was wrapping herself in a coat and scarf. She was moving past the front door onto the enclosed iron porch and down to the street, all the while fixating on the idea that she must get a message to her sister.
Coming out of the downtown Western Union office a few hours later, Diana hardly felt any better but was slightly warmed by the sense that she had something to look forward to. She had cabled her sister, via Will Keller, all the latest traumas and was now somewhat comforted by the vague notion that she might receive an inspired response. Perhaps Elizabeth would know a reason her little sister’s life was all coming apart at the seams. At the very least, Diana’s many weighty problems no longer felt like her problems alone, and for this reason she was moving with some of her characteristic chin-up confidence. She was also in a part of town where she was unlikely to meet any of her acquaintances, and she felt somewhat freed from her own identity and so quite able to walk without subterfuge.
This assumption was swiftly put away by the sound of her own name, spoken not particularly loudly but with perfectclarity by someone following her through the brass-framed plate glass doors of the office and into the bright, cold afternoon. She paused before turning to face the stranger. The sun was in her eyes, and it took a few more seconds before she recognized Davis Barnard. He was wearing the same fur hat as the last time they’d met, and one of his sharp dark brows was cocked.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Barnard,” she said. The spirit of her sister must have arrived somehow, for though she had no more happy faces, the corners of Diana’s mouth sprang up into something like a polite smile. “I’m surprised to see you so far downtown.”
“I had to send a telegram. Can’t be too careful of spies in the newsroom, my dear. Anyway, I was about to say the same thing to you,” Barnard answered dryly, with an amused twist to his thin lips. “Maybe the rumors are true, and you are cabling Elizabeth in London, where she has run off to marry the fifth in line to the British throne?”
Diana had always considered herself a good fibber, but she knew that the expression she wore now could disguise nothing. She turned her face to the street, with its worn cobblestones and indifferent midday traffic.
“Oh, Diana.” Barnard lowered his eyes, in which Diana momentarily caught a glimpse of something like shame. “I didn’t mean to make light about Elizabeth.”
His voice quieted when he pronounced the name, and he watched two men in frock coats pass. They were dressed for business, but they were as plain as the buildings with their workaday painted wood signs and small glass storefronts that lined the street.
“It’s all right.” Diana met his eyes to show him that what she said was true.
“But I’m glad to have caught you—I think you have some information that I would give a great deal to know….”
Diana, sensing that she was again nearing the topic of her sister and thus a position requiring a level of deception that she was not currently capable of, quickly turned hot. “I really don’t know what you mean.”
“The young lady accompanying Carey Lewis Longhorn at the opera last night?” Barnard urged gently. “I heard you were talking with her in the ladies’ lounge. Everyone was buzzing about it, and of course they all want to know who she could be.”
“Oh.” Diana bit her lip. With all the other heartrending going on, she had nearly forgotten about running into Lina, and had entirely neglected to tell Claire how grand her little sister looked. But reading it in the columns would be even better.
“I’m sure it feels a little uncomfortable, for a lady like you…but perhaps this will help.” Her interlocutor producedan envelope. It was edged with gold, and when she peeked inside, she saw a twenty-dollar bill.
“Thank you,” Diana said, taking it. So this was how life was, she thought with a faint smile: It wore you down until you emerged at its wildest, most unexpected ends. “I believe the young lady you were speaking of is named Carolina Broud,” Diana began cautiously. “She met Elizabeth in Paris in the spring, and was offering me condolences.” Once she had begun telling the lie, Diana found she didn’t mind at all and even wanted to spin it further. “She’s an orphan, you know, and they quite understood each other, having both lost fathers. The Broud money was from copper smelting, I believe, and it has brought Carolina to the city with the idea of seeing something of society….”
“And is the old bachelor looking for love again?”
Diana tried her best to look scandalized and then replied that she hadn’t the faintest.
“Ah, well. It’s an excellent item just the same. Can I offer you a ride home, Miss Di?”
Diana knew that it wouldn’t look right, but then she told herself that things only looked wrong when there was someone to see you. The air was bracing and the walk back uptown would take far more strength than she had. Barnard gestured to his phaeton across the cobblestone street and, with the memory of the gilt-edged envelope still fresh in her mind,Diana found herself disinclined to flat-out refuse any of his offers.
“Thank you,” she said. “Though I must insist that you not be too familiar. Diana is my given name.”
Barnard tipped his head, as though to say, “As you wish,” and then Diana accepted his proffered arm.
TRANSATLANTIC CABLE MESSAGE
THE WESTERN UNION TELEGRAPH COMPANY
ARRIVED AT: 25Main Street,
San Pedro, California1:25 p.m., Sunday, December 17, 1899
Henry is not in love except perhaps with Penelope—think I may have been very selfish—two servants left—no monies whatsoever—Mother won’t get out of bed—she’s not well and I don’t know what to do—help me—D
THE DINNER ELIZABETH SERVED THAT NIGHTwould be far superior to the scarcely touched beans of the previous evening. For one thing, there would be real meat—steaks bought that day in town—and potatoes roasted in a pan over the fire and Waldorf salad. She had gone and purchased these items herself, that afternoon. She’d purposefully avoided the post office, which had previously been her single, obsessive destination.
“Did you get a letter today, Mrs. Keller?” they had asked her at the general store. They believed that she was Will’s wife, which was what she had told them to explain her presence out there alone with two men, and they knew how frequently she asked if there was anything for her or her husband in the mail. She didn’t like this lie—it was against everything she had been brought up to believe to live as man and wife without being married—but it was preferable to publicly appearing to do so.
“Oh, no,” Elizabeth had replied, blushing under her hat. “I’m just here for groceries today,” she added softly.
The other reason was that Will was going to help her with the cooking, which he seemed to know something of, since his living quarters had been so close to the Holland kitchen and because, when he was thirteen and growing so quickly, it had been necessary for him to become good friends with their cook and learn from her. It was Will who insisted they should celebrate. Finding oil meant that soon they would be living at a whole new level, and this made him feel much better about spending some of his savings to have a real dinner. Elizabeth had gone to pick up those necessary things while he and Denny began to put together their makeshift rig, trying to make it just as safe and effective as one of those huge ones the big oil companies used.
On the long walk back to the cabin, she had reflected on Will’s ability to save. He was always working hard, she knew that, but it was an irony she could not fail to appreciate that he had accumulated money while the family that employed him frittered theirs away. And then he had worked to save more while he waited for her in San Francisco. There was money for steak, when it was called for, and she mused in a far-off way about how Will, not Henry, would have been the better person on whom to pin the family’s hopes for salvation.
That hardly seemed to matter anymore, though. Now that she saw how assuredly Will would make her rich again, she found she didn’t even need it. She knew what moneywould mean for her mother, for the rest of the family, but for her it no longer held any power. It almost made her laugh—she found herself smirking as she pulled back the canvas flap that served as a door to the cabin—how much she had worried over losing her dresses and her objects and all her trinkets and jewels. Now that they were gone, she never thought of them.
She continued thinking about all that constituted the boy she loved until he returned, his eyes bright with excitement and his whole body animated with the work of the day. There was that usual smell of sweat and soap when he came through the door, and a new one—it was something like sulfur, and it reminded Elizabeth of intense industry and all the other things he was cut out for.
“Lizzy,” he said. He took the paring knife with which she had been removing the skins of the potatoes out of her hand and laid it on the table, and then his arms took her up. After the kiss he met her eyes, and his lips were drawn back so far it was impossible to think he might ever frown again.
There was a new shine there and a new buoyancy in his step that reminded her of that time in their lives when they first admitted they were in love. That it was not some childhood game in which they imagined being married as grownups but something far more real. That was when she had ordered a delivery entrance installed between the kitchen andthe carriage house so that she could slip down to see him at night. Neither of them had yet turned sixteen, and the complications of their situation had not fully dawned on them.
“Where’s Denny?” She rested her head on his chest and took in a warm breath. He was holding her to him with his hand and had turned to assess what still needed to be done for dinner.
“I sent him into town for whiskey.” Will picked up a piece of chopped apple from the table and put it in his mouth.
“Oh, I could have gotten that!”
“A real lady, buying alcohol like any roustabout?”
Elizabeth pursed her lips. “I’m not sure they have those scruples out here,” she said.
“No, but you do.” He swallowed the apple and then gently tapped her nose. There had been moments since Elizabeth’s arrival in California when she felt self-conscious about all her old manners, which were more difficult to discard than the desire for things or the instinct to marry where money already was. But then there were moments like these when Will put her at ease and when she knew that all the things that constituted her self were as sweet to him as he was to her. He kissed her forehead, and then they continued to work at the celebration dinner without words in the flickering lamplight.
It was into this pleasant silence that Denny Planck returned. Elizabeth turned and acknowledged him with a smallsmile and nod as he came through the door and thought, as she often had before, how he might be handsome if it weren’t for the skin of his cheeks, which were pitted with smallpox scars, and his somewhat oversize ears. For his height gave him natural advantages, and there was a sweet willingness to follow others in his brown eyes. He was heavier than Will and less articulate, but Will liked and trusted him, and that was enough to make her like him, too.
“Smells good,” he said with a grin.
“Denny!” Elizabeth’s laugh rang out. “We haven’t even started cooking yet.”
Will went over and threw an arm over his friend’s shoulder. Elizabeth wasn’t sure she’d ever seen her sweetheart in such a state of conviviality. There was confidence in his every movement and a looseness in his limbs.
“Looks good, then,” Denny replied, wearing the same grin. “Here,” he went on, removing a bottle wrapped in paper from the crook between his arm and his side. “I brought the whiskey.”
“Bravo!” Will took the bottle and unwrapped it and threw the paper into the fire. Grabbing three of the little mismatched mason jars, which had once held small amounts of jam or sardines, he poured them each a finger of brown liquid. Then he passed the jars around and raised his high. “To our success!”
They clinked their glasses and drank. Elizabeth had been known to drink a moderate amount of champagne at balls in New York, but she had never tasted whiskey, and it burned her tongue. She didn’t mind, though. It all felt like part of the lucky new sunlight that had fallen on them.
“To our success,” Denny seconded as he placed the little jar back on the table. “Oh, and Will, there was this for you at the post office. They told me Mrs. Keller”—here Denny winked in a way Elizabeth would have preferred he’d not—“might have missed it on her earlier foray into town.”
Elizabeth pretended to go back to mixing together the walnuts and apples and celery in the chipped blue tin bowl as Will set down his glass. He moved away to rip open the sealed yellow telegram, and she turned to watch him even as Denny sat down at the table and picked up a handful of walnuts, which he began shoveling into his mouth. She wanted to stop wondering what the contents of the telegram said, but found that she couldn’t bring her attention back to the salad. After a moment, Will looked up at her and she saw that the celebration had gone out of his face.
“Oh, Liz,” he said.
“What is it?”
Will looked at Denny, who was absorbed in pouring himself a second glass of whiskey, and back to Elizabeth. He tilted his head toward the door, indicating that she shouldfollow him. “Denny, we’ll be right back, all right?” Then, summoning some of the previous gaiety: “Slow down with the whiskey or we won’t have anything left to celebrate with.”
Denny acknowledged this comment with a laugh, and then they left him and went out into the darkness. They walked for several moments, away from the low light of the cabin, before either of them spoke. All of the orange had gone out of the sky while Elizabeth had been inside, and where the purple up above had turned to black, pins of light had started to emerge.
Will’s voice was the first to break the quiet. “I knew this would happen,” he began quietly. “I just didn’t think it would be so soon.”
“What did it say?” The look on his face provoked a feeling of dread, and she could barely even whisper now.
“It was from Diana. She says she needs help, and that your mother is not well.”
Elizabeth felt the cold sweep over her body. “Is it serious?”
Will shook his head firmly. “It just says that she’s ill, Lizzie. It’s pretty brief, and you know your sister isn’t a realist. There’s no way to know exactly what’s happening.”
All of a sudden Elizabeth flashed on a vision of her mother, broken and bedridden. The thought of her so reduced was more terrible and heartbreaking than she could have begun to anticipate. “I have to go to her.”
Will’s eyes were wide and watchful as he nodded. “I’ll go with you, then.”
Elizabeth put her hand over her mouth and tried to keep herself from crying. There was that bruised feeling in her chest that always preceded tears, but she told herself that would be very selfish, that her mother was too far away to see how she felt and she would only be crying over her own guilty behavior. “Oh, Will. The oil.”
“It’s been there a long time.” A smile wavered on his lips, and then he reached out for her. She felt the whole spread of his palm against the small of her back; his other hand lightly brushed the hair back from her face. “It will be there when we come back. The train leaves San Pedro at noon tomorrow.”
Elizabeth let her body relax into his. All of her fears for her family, which she had been keeping at bay, were back with her now. She wondered if she would be able to sleep that night, or any night before she was with them again. She tried not to think the worst, but already her fretful imagination had gotten away from her.Thirteen
Of all the misfortunes that seem to have befallen the Holland family as of late, no rumor has stuck so painfully as the one that Miss Elizabeth is alive and being held by some nefarious cabal or other, which some ladies might view as a fate worse than death. Of course, if it is money that her captors want, they will be sorely disappointed in their ransom….
—FROMCITÉ CHATTER, MONDAY, DECEMBER18, 1899
“AT LEAST YOU LOOK VERY WELL,” AGNES JONESsaid, with a furtive look at the dark green velvet jacket that Diana was wearing. This was a non sequitur as far as Diana was concerned, as there had been no mention of what exactly Diana’s appearance was a silver lining to. Previously they had been talking about the weather, which was bright and brisk. If she had not been annoyed, she might have considered that Agnes was politely alluding to the continual disappearance of objects from the Holland parlor, or the recent untoward rumors about Elizabeth, or the lack of a fire going even when there were patches of ice on the sidewalk.
“Thank you,” Diana replied, haughtily arranging the lapels of her jacket. It was voluminous in the upper sleeves and narrow at the wrists and waist, and the color brought out the russet tones of her dark curls. She had bought it yesterday, with her gossip earnings, and though even a ready-to-wear piece was an extravagance that she could hardly justify, it was turning out quite useful in an unheated house. She needed itto make her feel better in more profound ways as well, which was not something she expected her guest to understand. Agnes, Diana thought rather ungenerously, knew nothing of the sorrows of beautiful girls. “As do you.”
Agnes shrugged modestly. She was wearing a walking dress of moth brown cheviot that did not fit her right in the least and a bonnet that entirely overwhelmed her square little head. Diana noted these facts without remorse. Agnes had been one of Elizabeth’s friends—a pity project of Liz’s, really, as Agnes had had an unfortunate beginning in life and was now an orphan of minor financial independence—but none of the other Hollands had ever had the patience for her. She still insisted on coming by for tea even after the Hollands had suspended their “day” for visitors, a few weeks after Elizabeth’s passing, ostensibly because it reminded her of her lost friend. Even before Mrs. Holland had turned ill, she’d taken to hiding upstairs on these occasions.
“This room isn’t the same without Elizabeth,” Agnes presently observed. She cast her eyes over its oak pocket door and wainscoting, its embossed olive leather paneling, its scattered antique chairs. The room was more sparsely furnished than before, it was true.
“No, nothing ever will be,” the younger Miss Holland replied with an impatient wave of her hand. The girls had finished their tea, which Diana had made herself to save Claire the trouble. She had steeped it perhaps a little too long, andthe strength of the tea, combined with her utter lack of appetite over the last few days, had given her the jitters, which had the not unexpected side effect of making her conversation more flip than usual.
“I must be going,” Agnes went on after a pause.
“Yes, I guess you’d better.”
At the door, Diana managed to feign a little politeness and urge her guest to come again. Elizabeth would have liked it, she told herself, which was more or less true. Then she turned, into the dark foyer, and looked down at the unpolished silver tray on the floor—the ornate piece of furniture that it used to sit on was apparently another casualty of the Hollands’ current lack of funds. There were a few cards there. She picked them up out of a vague curiosity—after all, if she were to keep doing business with Barnard, she would have to pay more attention to the comings and going of the sorts of people who left cards—and came to a stop at the one with Teddy Cutting’s name on it. She turned it over and saw the words:
I am sorry to have miss ed you,
but it has all been arranged
for Monday night. I will
come by in my carriage
at seven o’clock for you.
Diana had always found Teddy rather dull—he was the sort of boy who worshipped sweetly pale things like Elizabeth—but he held a special interest to her as one of Henry’s particular friends. It drove her up to the second floor, holding her long black skirt back from her quickly moving feet. She rapped twice on her mother’s door and then entered without waiting for an answer. Since Diana had last peeked into the room, the white curtains had been drawn down from the canopy, and the heavy chintz drapes of the north-facing windows had been closed. This change in atmosphere did not deter Diana, who continued on to the bed and perched on the white matelassé bedspread.
She wasted no time before saying, “Mother, I’m glad to hear you’re feeling better.”
Mrs. Holland, whose head was resting on a pile of pillows and whose shut lids were veined with blue, paused a moment before replying: “I am not feeling very well at all. I have been worrying about you all night—where did you run off to yesterday morning?”
“I only went out for a little air,” Diana said in a moment. She wondered if telling her mother the truth—that she had been sending a telegram to her living, breathing sister—would have alleviated all of the gloom.
“After what happened to Elizabeth, one would think you would be a little kind and wouldn’t give me so much cause to worry.”
She opened her eyes then and gave Diana a look that was very difficult to meet. The daughter held it as long as she could, and then moved her hand across her face to tuck a few hairs back into their upward arrangement. “Sorry, Mother,” she answered grudgingly. “But what does this note from Mr. Cutting mean?”
“Ah, Mr. Cutting…” Mrs. Holland’s eyelids drooped closed again. “Well, my dear, since Mr. Newburg and Mr. Coddington do not seem to have taken any interest in you, I thought you might do well to see one of Elizabeth’s old friends, and it happens that Mr. Cutting was looking for a young lady to accompany him to a dinner that his married sister is giving this evening.”
“How did you arrange…?” Diana began, mystified. At that particular moment she wasn’t sure whether to believe in her mother’s illness or not.
“You have not forgotten who you are, I hope, Diana.” Here Mrs. Holland’s eyes opened as she turned her face at such an angle that what light there was in the room caught against the underside of her sharp chin. “Whoweare.”
Her gaze fell to the fitted waist of the new jacket, and for a moment Diana’s breath caught at the thought that she was about to be asked where it had come from.
“I’m sorry it has been so cold, Diana,” her mother nearly whispered. “Claire told me that the firewood deliveries have stopped, and I have given her funds to pay the bill.”
With that her eyes closed again and Diana took her leave. As she returned to her room she could not help but wonder what this Teddy business meant. It was curious and inscrutable news, and what it indicated about her mother’s state was even more obscure. Clearly Mrs. Holland had been out of bed the day before and with enough of her old influence to arrange for her daughter to be escorted for an evening by one of New York’s most eligible. But that she had looked at the brilliant green of Diana’s jacket and felt sympathy for her daughter’s being cold rather than growing suspicious over an unfamiliar piece of clothing was strange and alarming. That was not Louisa Gansevoort Holland at all. Ordinarily she was an obsessive cataloguer of material goods. That something new and fine had escaped her notice did not in the least bode well.
Diana sat in the gold wing chair in her room, unsettled and a little restless. She pushed her head back into the chair’s cushioned upholstery and ran her fingers along its mahogany arms contemplatively. After some thought, she came to the conclusion that there was nothing to do but choose a dressimpressive enough to catch Teddy’s eye. That was the way to make use of the evening. He would have to more than notice her—he would have to be taken in by her beauty. Then he would feel compelled to immediately describe it, in lavish terms, to his friend Henry.
Many have already noted that the elder statesman of New York bachelors, Mr. Carey Lewis Longhorn, was sighted for the first time with a young lady of unique but undoubted prettiness at the opening of the opera on Saturday evening. Some have speculated that she is the one to finally tame that eternally unattached fellow. But it is I alone who have exclusively learned her identity: She is Miss Carolina Broad, a western heiress to a copper-smelting fortune, and she intends to grace our city for some time. I will inform as more becomes known of this enchanting young lady….
—FROM THE “GAMESOMEGALLANT” COLUMN IN THENEW YORK IMPERIAL, MONDAY, DECEMBER18, 1899
LINA SHOULD HAVE KNOWN THAT THE ADVENT OFher first true moment of glory would coincide with the complete annihilation of all her dreams. Also, that were her name ever to appear in the columns, it would naturally be misspelled. If Will happened to glance over the columns he likely wouldn’t even wonder if the girl mentioned was the one he used to know. She had been born into the plain world, and it now seemed very likely that she would die in the plain world as well. She had taken her desire to be grand one step too far, and now the sight of her full name,Carolina,in print made her feel a little sick with herself for having dared to imagine such a fine future for someone so clearly destined to be common. She had paid through Friday at the hotel: after that would commence the long descent Diana had warned her about.
There had first been the fact of her money being gone. This had been an eventuality, of course—it was more than half gone in a short period of time. But it would have lasted her a little longer, and then it would have taken her away fromthe city and all of its expenses to find Will out west. She had been planning to carefully budget out the remainder any day now, exactly how much it would cost to travel to Chicago and from there to San Francisco. Then she might need more, to travel down the coast to one of those towns she had heard Will speak of before, places he’d no doubt read about in one of his books. And of course she had hoped to arrive in Elizabeth Holland–style grandeur. For all of it to be gone at once, and for it to have taken all her plans with it!
She had sat with this new fact for a good part of the night, and that was when the anger came. For the money had not disappeared into thin air. Someone had it. Someone was already spending it, and probably on something much less important than finding the love of one’s life. Surely whoever had it was someone whose name had not just appeared—correctly or not—in the “Gamesome Gallant” column in the Monday early edition.
She wondered, at first, if the thievery weren’t somehow Mr. Longhorn’s doing. It was a little too good to be believed, after all, that her first trip to the opera should bring her into such a very fine box. But he was enormously rich—that fact was in no way in doubt—so why would he bother with her paltry fortune? Then she thought of Robert, Mr. Longhorn’s valet, but of course Robert had been waiting at the carriage outside the opera house the whole evening. She thought ofthe front-desk man, and of the maid, of all the invisible parts that made the hotel function—but she stopped herself there. She had been lying to them so consistently, and she had been so artful in her vagueness, that to bring a precise complaint felt impossible. Later, when she was older and grander, when she had proved herself as a lady, this illogic would seem like the comical thinking of a frightened child. But at the moment the idea of causing any kind of scene was nearly as terrifying as the loss of the money itself.
If only she could raise half the stolen sum, she told herself, she would go to Will straightaway. These thoughts circled her head all morning, and then, around noon, she remembered she still had one thing left to sell.
“Miss Carolina Broad,” the Hayeses’ butler announced from the corner of what appeared to be a vast drawing room. Lina, hovering behind him, caught a glimpse of the girl who had first given her hope for a new way of life. She was perched on the corner of a divan and wearing a displeased expression as well as a skirt of dusty pink silk. Penelope looked up at the sound of the name and turned her head to the side contemplatively. Perhaps, Lina thought, she had noticed the changes to the name since the last time she’d heard it, or maybe shehadn’t—it was impossible to know. “I would have presented her card, mademoiselle,” the butler went on, not assuaging the visitor’s discomfort in the least, “but she hasn’t got one.”
It was through a forest of blue-and-white-upholstered Louis Quinze that Lina had to walk—her nerves raw and her courage flagging all the way—to get to the young lady of the grand new house. Although she had met Penelope before, it was hardly the kind of interaction that might lead to further genteel visits. Lina had to force her leather lace-up boots—a gift from Tristan, the day after they’d met—across the black walnut floor. She was finding it awfully difficult to appear natural.
Penelope looked up at Lina only after she had paused a few feet from the divan. The young lady of the house was drawing her long fingers over the head of a small black-and-white dog. “That dress used to be mine.”
Lina looked down on the pale red fabric with the Swiss dot pattern, which she had worn quite a few times over the fall. She remembered Penelope telling her, when she handed it down, that it had been one of her favorites—Lina wondered now if anyone at the hotel might have recognized its provenance.
The large man with the feminine brow and soft skin, who had been reading the columns in a chair just behind Penelope—though she’d never met him, Lina assumed he was theBuck Elizabeth used to speak so doubtfully of—commented without raising his eyes from his folded paper, “She certainly doesn’t wear it as you did.”
“Oh…” Lina looked down at herself and wished she hadn’t come. It had been a mistake, as she would have realized earlier if she hadn’t been desperate. But shewasdesperate, so she moved a little closer to her onetime patroness.
“I can’t imagine what brings you here,” Penelope put in sharply.
“It’s quite irregular,” Buck added.
Lina’s cheeks turned the color of claret. “Perhaps I could speak to you about that in private?”
Penelope looked as though she had just been asked to make her own bed.
“Anything you can say to Miss Hayes, you can say to me,” Buck said finally, ending a pause that had done unkind things to Lina’s already suffering nerves.
She looked several times from Buck and back to Penelope, and finally resolved to go forward with what she had planned to say. “I thought we might be able to arrange another trade.”
“Another trade?” Penelope exclaimed. There was disbelief in her wide-open eyes. “I hope you haven’t told anyone about all that.”
“Of course not.” Lina drew her lower lip under her teethand wondered just how evident the despair was on her face. “But this is a bit of news I think you’d find most interesting.”
Penelope’s gaze turned neutral and she moved her elbow—its sharpness obvious even beneath the tight-fitting pink silk—a little forward on the armrest. “Well. What is it?”
“It’s about the Hollands,” she forced herself to say. “I discovered it while I was still part of their staff. You see, there was a man, I think he dealt in antiques and things, he would come by the house and take pieces of theirs away. The bills were really piling up then. That’s how I realized…me and my sister, Claire…that they’d lost their money. And Claire still works there, so I know that they’ve had to let most of their staff go.”
“Carolina Broad, is it?”
“Carolina…” A dry smile had crept onto Penelope’s face. Maybe this was a good sign, Lina thought. For a brief moment she felt at ease in that vast room with its ormolu-encrusted mirrors and old master paintings and its blindingly shiny floor. “Are you saying that the famous Hollands are poor?”
Carolina smiled back a little now. “Oh, yes. I am absolutely sure of it—”
“Lord, get out.” Penelope’s face fell and she waved her hand impulsively. She turned her whole body away from hervisitor now, even as Lina bent toward her, wishing to know what she had done wrong.
“But before you said that—”
“The Hollands are poor?” Penelope went on in a voice that even the little dog, struggling to free his tail from under her skirt, seemed to find discomfiting. “Everyoneknowsthat one already. If you’d come here with a reason Henry Schoonmaker hasn’t fallen back in love with me, then perhaps…but that’s a riddle that people far smarter than you are stumped by. You stupid girl, did you really think you were going to come into my house and sell me old news?”
Lina’s lips hung open slightly and she took these words as though they had been a physical reprimand. She was indeed a very stupid girl. “I was only trying to help,” she said faintly.
“Oh, tsk, tsk,” Buck admonished from the background. “You were trying to sell something, dearie.”
Lina felt so miserable and confused, there in the middle of that once-again hostile room, that she was almost grateful for Penelope’s next stroke.
“Rathmill!” she called. Lina turned and saw the butler appear in the doorway. “MissBroadwas confused about whom she was calling on. You can show her out now.”
The butler understood the implications perfectly, crossed to the helpless girl in the lesser shade of red, and took her bythe arm. Lina went without protest, hanging her head on the long walk back across the floor.
“That was unpleasant,” she heard Buck say as she was pulled forcibly into the hall. “And just when you were about to go out.”
Lina closed her eyes as the butler drew her roughly toward the front entrance. She had so recently crossed its black-and-white-checked floor in hope and trepidation, but she returned to it with all her hopes dashed. Penelope was right: She was a stupid girl who would never find her way.Fifteen
It is no surprise, given her popularity as a debutante, how lively the new Mrs. Schoonmaker’s Mondays are. One can count on seeing everyone one might want to see there….
—FROM THE SOCIETY PAGE OF THENEW-YORK NEWS OF THE WORLD GAZETTE, MONDAY, DECEMBER18, 1899
THE SECOND MRS. SCHOONMAKER WAS KNOWNnot only for her Mondays but also for her Louis Quatorze, which was a mix of her own collection of antique furniture and that of the first Mrs. Schoonmaker. Isabelle was known for her miniatures as well, and for her facial features, which were diminutive and exquisite, and of course for the company she kept. Lydia Vreewold and Grace Vanderbilt—who were of the same generation and shared some of the youth and vivaciousness that characterized their hostess—were sitting on a little settee upholstered in pale turquoise silk and discussing the clothes they planned to buy in Paris that spring; James De Ford, Isabelle’s younger brother, was standing by one of the tall windows that looked out onto Fifth Avenue and listening to the painter Lispenard Bradley pontificate about nudes. (The second Mrs. Schoonmaker was further known for having somewhat irregularly allowed an artist or two into her circle.) Penelope Hayes—dressed impeccably in a dusky pink silk day dress, a new set of tiny dark bangs justintruding onto her high white forehead—stepped into this scene of superior furniture and celebrated names.
“Penelope, my dear, you look good enough to eat,” Isabelle said, lacing her arm through that of her guest and steering her across the carpeted floor, which was populated by gleaming chairs and various marble statuary and a few top-notch people, comfortably positioned for conversation. Penelope wouldn’t have disagreed, though she was satisfied in the event to lower her eyes and murmur a shy thanks. She looked around—subtly, her face turned toward the dark purple patterns of the Hamadan carpets—with the idea of seeing Henry.
“Poor Henry,” Isabelle went on, apparently sensing in which direction Penelope’s thoughts were running. “His father was furious with him over that little outburst at the opera. Which is sosilly! Weren’t you and I and everybody else dying for a little diversion at precisely that moment?”
“Oh, I probably was, though I can’t remember the outburst you speak of,” Penelope replied, trying to edge a little bit of chumminess into her shy tone. She took her hostess’s small, soft palm into her own and leaned toward the older woman intimately. “Was Mr. Schoonmaker terribly harsh?”
“He was. There was so much yelling when poor Henry got home.” Isabelle lowered her voice to a confidential pitch as they moved slowly and regally toward the tea things.
Several of the guests had taken notice of the new arrival, but Henry, reclining on a chaise longue in the corner by himself, was looking rather moody and staring at the ceiling. He had not noticed Penelope, a fact that she comprehended with a slight tickle of rage in her throat. “He’s quite worried that Henry’ll do something that might make the family look bad now, when he’s just received so much enthusiasm for his mayoral campaign,” Isabelle went on in the same tone. “But of course, most of the support has come because of sympathy forHenry,losing Elizabeth and all…so it’s a fine line for Schoonmaker—he can’t punish himtoomuch.”
“No, I suppose not.” They had arrived at the refreshment table, and Isabelle wasted no time in putting a small collection of petits fours glacés onto a small plate. Penelope allowed herself a long, unabashed look in Henry’s direction, which he did not return. He was wearing the usual black jacket and slacks, and the skin around his eyes, which were pretty in an almost feminine way, was touched by a purple fatigue.
Isabelle poured tea for both of them, examining her new friend as she did. She brushed a golden curl away from her eyes and lowered her voice. “Schoonmaker has actually been rather gentle, compared with his usual fury.Ithink Henry has such a long face because of how terribly he’s taking Elizabeth’s death.” The ladies took their teacups and moved toward a set of chairs by a window, which would allow them to appear withthe full benefit of the afternoon light; Penelope and Isabelle comprehended the advantage of this spot with unspoken collusion. “You know, I think when a man loses a wife it’s less of a blow, because he has already had a little bit of life with her. But to lose a fiancée is like having a meal presented to one and then whisked a way before even a single bite can be had….”
Penelope nodded compassionately, although she felt certain that Elizabeth was not a dish Henry would have ordered in the first place. Isabelle sighed and put the little sea-foam green pastry half into her mouth, her eyes rolling to the coved ceiling as she did. “It seems that Henry was greatly matured by the loss of his fiancée,” Penelope said delicately, if completely disingenuously, looking over her teacup to confirm that the subject of their discussions had still not looked in her direction.
“Oh, I should say so, though Schoonmaker doesn’t think so at all.” Isabelle leaned forward and put a hand on Penelope’s arm. “He is petrified that at any moment Henry might cease to appear sad about the whole miserable affair.”
“That’s rather mercenary.” Penelope felt that the new her would react in this way, though as soon as the statement had escaped her mouth, she wondered if it might sound critical of her future family-in-law. It wasn’t easy, trying to make friends as a Little Miss Goody Two-Shoes.
“Oh, yes, of course that’s a terrible way to put it.Especially since you were such a particular friend of Elizabeth’s.” Isabelle put the rest of the petit four in her mouth remorsefully and swallowed it. “It’s such a pity for Elizabeth, too, and for her family. What a thing it would have been for them if shehadmarried Henry. Have you heard the stories about their situation?”
Penelope nodded gravely, keeping her smile safely at bay. She had almost put the pathetic visit from the Hollands’ old maid out of her mind but recalled it now with a certain satisfaction. There was nothing so richly pitiful as the help turning against their employers.
“But of course, it would have been quite the thing for Elizabeth to have been Mrs. Henry Schoonmaker, too. A good married lady she would have made.” Isabelle sighed and put her empty plate down on a small, marble-topped table with an exuberantly curved base. Then she leaned back against her chair and turned her face in Penelope’s direction. A girlish color had come into her cheeks, and where there had been concern in her eyes before, now there was a gleam of mischief. “You know what they say, that a lady’s life really doesn’t begin until she’s a married woman? I had no idea how true that was untilIwas married.”
“Really?” Penelope responded with a matching sparkle in her eye. She had always felt a little sad for Isabelle, who seemed like fun, and who had had so many beaux asa debutante—including, Penelope believed, her own brother, Grayson—for being married to a controlling, humorless old man. She was glad to hear that being Mrs. William Schoonmaker was not as suffocating as she had imagined. “But I’m so afraid that marriage will mean I must always do only what my husband wishes, andthatdoesn’t sound terribly fun.”
“Oh,no,my dear, you must stop thinking that way. Once you are married, no one can suspect you of anything.” Isabelle followed this statement with a long wink and then a pause, in which she rearranged her hands and watched Penelope with cautious eyes. Penelope felt herself to be on the receiving end of the kind of evaluation of which she was ordinarily the author. It was as though Isabelle were trying to look through her. “You know…I always thought Elizabeth would have made a lovely Mrs. Henry Schoonmaker, just as I said…but she wouldn’t have been my first choice for a daughter-in-law.”
Penelope could not help but spread her plush red lips into a full smile at this statement. She looked away, so as not to seem too eager, and rested her pale fingers on the shiny oak finial of her chair. “What sort of daughter-in-law would you have preferred?”
“Oh…” Isabelle shifted thoughtfully in her chair. “One who wasn’t so very…verygood, I suppose. Elizabeth would always have been checking in on the linens and chiding me for being rude to some old bore—don’t you think so?”
Penelope nodded, perhaps a little too quickly.
“Not to speak ill of the dead,” her hostess went on. “But someone a little…a little more like you would add to the Schoonmaker family in the way that would most please me.”
The pair looked at each other for a long moment, a glimmer of understanding on both their faces.
“Now, tell me what has become of your brother? We do miss him in New York….”
“Oh, Grayson?” Penelope smiled and complied, giving her hostess as much information on her older brother, who had been seeing to the family business abroad for some years, as she possibly could. The two ladies continued to engage each other in affectionate conversation, their long silk skirts adjoining on the carpet, until the butler appeared in the doorway and announced Teddy Cutting’s name. At this point both Isabelle and Penelope looked up and watched with interest as he crossed to Henry and began to talk to him in hushed tones without bothering to take a seat.
“How rude of Mr. Cutting not to greet you first,” Penelope murmured.
“I quite agree with you,” Isabelle answered, sounding not offended in the least, “though I suppose it is Henry’s home too.”
Meanwhile, Henry had stood; something, apparently, had been agreed upon.
“Oh, Mr. Cutting!” Isabelle cried. Everyone in the room turned to look, a fact to which their hostess appeared entirely indifferent. She had taken Penelope’s hand again, as if to imply that this was all for the younger woman’s benefit. “I’m sure you aren’t going to leave without greeting me!”
The attention of the room was now fixed on the pair of chairs by the window; Penelope leaned forward so that the late-day sun would illuminate her best angle. She watched as Teddy, remaining awkwardly in his spot, adjusted his jacket so that it hung just so on him. It had already been hanging just so. The moment lengthened, and Teddy looked to Henry as though he might know what the appropriate thing to do was. But Henry—to Penelope’s mute fury and suffocating disappointment—closed his eyes in impatience and turned toward the ornate oak door frame.
Penelope barely registered Teddy as he moved, with some embarrassment, to his hostess and greeted her with a kiss on the hand.
“My apologies for not coming to you immediately, Mrs. Schoonmaker,” he said. The contractions around his gray eyes indicated he was sincere.
Had Penelope not been so stunned by Henry’s continual lack of interest in her, she might have wondered why Isabelle’s eyes had become dewy and flirtatious in the presence of boring old Teddy, and if this was perhaps all she’d meant whenshe said married women had more fun. But for Penelope, at that particular moment, Henry’s baffling indifference was all-consuming.
“Miss Hayes,” Teddy was saying, “it is a pleasure to see you as well.”
“Oh, hello, Teddy,” Penelope answered, extending her hand so that she could feel the soft impress of his lips through her glove. “Where has your friend gone to?”
“Oh, Henry? Some of us are off to race four-in-hands in the park, and Henry has agreed to come along. He has just now gone to give his instructions to the stable.”
Penelope could only manage to maintain a faint smile while Teddy exchanged a few obligatory niceties with Mrs. Schoonmaker. Then he took his leave and with it any hope of seeing Henry for the rest of the afternoon.
“You see,” Isabelle said, once again taking Penelope’s hand. “Henry is so curiously devastated by Elizabeth’s passing. It reveals itself most especially in the deterioration of his manners.”
Penelope would not before that moment have credited any of Henry’s inexplicable behaviors to Elizabeth’s death, but she found herself wondering if this could in fact be true now. Isabelle, as her tone and winking glances indicated, was fast becoming her ally, andsheapparently believed it to be the reason. Penelope closed her eyes and remembered Elizabeth,so cold and determined as she’d laid out the plan that would remove her from New York and Henry’s attentions forever. It had not been something she would have previously thought Liz capable of, and that was the least of what Penelope had been surprised by that day. She had had to confront several holes in her knowledge of the world, and she supposed that late in December, in the Schoonmakers’ drawing room, there might still be one or two things she was wrong about.
“But don’t worry,” Isabelle was saying. “We will make him see that although Elizabeth had her charms, there are other ladies who would perhaps be a more ideal match for him.”
Penelope nodded and gave her the smile of a confidante. She found that she no longer minded the idea that Henry’s enduring melancholia might have something to do with the fact that Elizabeth was dead, because if that were so—if Henry was too depressed over Elizabeth’s “death” to see that Penelope was the girl for him—it was based on a misconception that she herself could easily dispel.
It is not unheard of for bachelor twosomes to keep one or more young ladies up in the air for years and then wed titled British girls with fine houses and deficient bank accounts whom no one has ever seen before….
—MRS. L. A. M. BRECKINRIDGE,THE LAWS OF BEING IN WELL-MANNERED CIRCLES
“ARE YOU ENJOYING YOURSELF, MISS HOLLAND?”
Diana looked up from the oyster-colored sofa on which she had arranged herself and into the eyes of Teddy Cutting. Her elbow rested high on one of the three mahogany crests of the piece of furniture’s arched back, and her milky skin glowed in the rose-colored light emanating from a nearby lamp. The walls of the room were a deep plum, and the mood was that of the pleasurable sleepiness that always follows a long meal. Diana, cinched into ivory chiffon, looked very bright in the dark room and low light. Her dress collected in many folds to a V-shaped point both at its neckline and in the back and her skirt overflowed the seat. She was lovely, as everybody at the Ralph Darrolls’ small dinner party had noticed, but she knew this was of no particular interest to Teddy. He had mentioned her sister seven times over as many courses.
“Very much,” she answered with a flirtatious smile; she had not given up her goal of appearing beautiful to the manshe couldn’t help but consider Henry’s proxy. It was like some wound that she could not help but pluck at.
“I’m glad—may I sit with you?”
“Yes.” Diana was in fact genuinely glad for Teddy’s company. Though his presence held no romance at all for her, she had discovered that evening that she did like him. There was something in his sincere gray eyes that suggested a vast sadness and sense of guilt for the absurd good fortunes of his life. This was not a sentiment Diana shared—she could not stop herself from feeling unlucky—but she found it interesting. “Your sister’s home is very fine,” she went on.
Florence Cutting, Teddy’s oldest sister, had become Mrs. Darroll only a month ago. She was currently sitting near the fire talking to a man who was not her husband and looking rather larger than she had at her wedding.
“That is not the kind of conversation the Diana Holland I know makes.” Teddy smiled. “But yes, it is very fine. Of course, it was my uncle’s house before, and he gave it to them at the wedding, furniture and all, so I can’t say Mrs. Darroll has had to do much.”
“Still, I’m sure she’s given it her own touches.Shelooks beautiful—you can still see it even under all that jacquard. I suppose you will be an uncle in under half a year?”
“Ah, that is the Diana I remember,” Teddy replied, nowdisguising his smile with a sip from his snifter. “But I am not going to respond to such a supposition.”
“Tell me how Henry is, then.” The pain and pleasure of saying his name out loud were almost equally intense.
Teddy’s smile faded, and he looked at her with the same concern he had shown when they’d discussed her mother’s grief over dessert. A lamp with a hand-painted porcelain shade lit up his blond hair from behind, casting shadows under his facial features. “I saw him this afternoon.”
“And he is well?”
“He doesn’t seem terribly happy,” Teddy answered stiffly.
“I imagine you mean he takes my sister’s passing harder than I do?”
“He takes it hard,” Teddy said, looking at her and then looking away. “Though I’m sure it cannot be as difficult for him as it has been for you.”
“No.” Diana paused and placed her hands in her lap. She decided that she might as well ask the questions that came into her head, since the worst Teddy could do in response was not answer them. Still, she had to summon some courage to say, “What was he doing?” and even so her voice came across a little plaintive.
“We raced four-in-hands in the park. I won, which is rare, and leads me to conclude that his thoughts may have been elsewhere.” Teddy stared into his drink and related these factsin a businesslike tone. “Before that, he was in his stepmother’s drawing room—she receives on Mondays, you know.”
“Who doesn’t know?” Diana tried to smile, but she was aware that this must have appeared little more than the mechanical lifting of her upper lip. “Were there many people there?”
Across the room, gowns shifted and light played against china teacups and crystal glasses. There was laughter of the faint, urbane variety, and the crackle of a large fire. “Who, I wonder?”
“Oh, that painter Bradley and one of the fashionable Vanderbilt women and—”
No one in the room was paying attention to their little corner, and even if they had been, Diana felt herself completely absorbed, half out of dread, in the conversation. Teddy sipped from his drink, but that was as long a pause as he could conjure. “Yes, she was there.”
A mute anger came over Diana as she received this information. Of course Penelope had been there. Elizabeth had warned her to watch out for Penelope, but she had been passive, believing all the time that Henry’s love for her was true and lasting. She had been hot and instinctual—she had forgotten that all the while Penelope would be looking out forher own desires, just as she had when she drove Diana’s sister out of town. When she changed the subject, she was unable to thoroughly disguise the bitterness in her voice. “I wonder if you mentioned that you would be seeing me?”
“No,” Teddy replied in a kind tone, “it never came up.”
She nodded and tried not to feel disappointed by the news that Henry had not been talking of her.
“But Teddy, I know so little of you…” Diana went on, summoning all of her resources for one brave smile and a comment that she hoped would save her the struggle of talking any more. Teddy returned it and then went on to tell her about the poetry he used to read at Columbia College, from which he had graduated in the spring, and how he planned to be a lawyer and work for a living, even though he was supposed to inherit so much from his father. Diana half listened and nodded along. She watched the gentlemen in tails come in and out of doorways and greet the ladies who grew rosy sitting in their tufted corner chairs.
She tried to keep Teddy talking, and when it was necessary, to answer his comments in monosyllables. Anything more would have revealed how weak she felt again, how rent in two she was. At any moment, she feared, her chin might begin to tremble like a little girl’s. She had been a fool, she now knew. She had believed that Henry’s love was simply hers and that she didn’t have to do anything for it, when infact all the young unmarried girls were ruthlessly advancing across the chessboard of Manhattan to make him theirs. One of those girls was Penelope Hayes, whom her sister had specifically warned her about, and who was well known to be the queen.Seventeen
To those who say it is irresponsible to spread rumors of Elizabeth Holland’s possible continued existence on this earth, we say it is irresponsible to categorically deny them. After all, her body has never been found. Her carriage accident could indeed have been the work of kidnappers—they may have intended to ensnare Miss Hayes, too, and not fully realized their plan—and she may have been plucked from the water as soon as she fell and now be living in captivity in some remote state of our union, or even in one of the lesser-visited wards of our teeming city….
—FROM THE SOCIETY PAGE OF THENEW-YORK NEWS OF THE WORLD GAZETTE, MONDAY, DECEMBER18, 1899
THEY’D WOKEN UP IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE—well, in an oil field, which looked on the face of it very much like nowhere—but by late afternoon Elizabeth and Will were moving steadily northward to San Francisco in a first-class car. There had been several delays at the station in San Pedro, and for a time Elizabeth had given up hope of her pulse returning to a normal rate. The first-class car had been Will’s idea. It was an extravagance she wasn’t sure if they could afford—how deep could his savings run, anyway? But he’d insisted that this was the way to celebrate the imminent change in their lives. Elizabeth might have protested more strongly, except that her worries lay elsewhere.
“Where do you think we’ll be by tomorrow?” Will asked, taking her hand, as their car hurtled through the middle of California.
“I don’t know.” Outside, the sun was going down. Elizabeth pushed her head back into the red velvet cushion of the car and shifted her gaze from the rapidly changing landscapein the window to Will. The names on their door read elizabeth and will keller, and they were keeping up the ruse of being a married couple so that they could share a berth without suspicion. He had apologized to her, once they’d taken their seats, and promised that he wouldn’t make her lie about something that important much longer.
“I slept all the way cross-country last time,” Will said. She winced to think what must have been on his mind during that trip, even though his tone was a happy one. He was worried about her, she could see that—his light blue eyes were wide and observant against his sun-darkened skin. “I plan to take in more of the view this time.”
Elizabeth pressed her palm into his and tried to smile. They were both wearing their coats for the first time since they’d left New York—this despite the heat of the railway cars—because she believed it made them look more put together. She felt a little ashamed to be tawny and dirty, so simply dressed, amidst all these trappings of travel gentility, but at least she could believe that her fellow travelers were merely rich and not yet distinguished by taste or class. Still, Elizabeth would have done anything to cover the yellowing her seersucker dress had taken on. In Will’s case, however, the black smears on his serge trousers seemed to garner as much murmured admiration as his fitted brown coat.
Three chandeliers illuminated their car, and a carpet randown its center. They were on their way to New York, and the air around them was all warm and perfumed, but still, Elizabeth’s mind was restless.
“We’ll be with them soon enough,” Will told her gently, as if reading her thoughts.
Elizabeth nodded and rested her head against his shoulder. What Will said was true, but it did little to comfort her, because the question that had interrupted her sleep the night before was not how soon she could be with her family, but what she could do for them once she arrived.
Will believed that they were sitting on vast wealth, and she believed him, but she knew it would take time and effort to turn that into cash. Her family needed money now, or preferably yesterday. But Elizabeth owned something that could be turned into cash, though she could hardly think of it without a sheen of sweat collecting on her brow. That thing was Henry Schoonmaker’s engagement ring, a Tiffany diamond set in gold.
The ring was in her pocket, wrapped once in tissue paper and then in newspaper and then finally in a piece of canvas. She hadn’t yet told Will that she had brought it with her from New York. It was such a talisman of her past betrayals, she didn’t even like to think of it. But she reminded herself that it might do her family a world of good—it might hire the necessary doctor, or put Diana in the right dress—and she hadalready been selfish enough. She would feel better, she told herself, once it was out of her hands and she had its worth in bills.
She had a plan for that, too—she knew that the train was to stop in Oakland for several hours, to pick up new passengers and cargo. There were places near the station where things could be pawned, as Denny had told her once. She would slip out on some excuse and would be done with it quickly.
“If you don’t stop making that distraught face,” Will said, interrupting her agitated planning, “I think I might start to cry.”
She leaned into his shoulder and told him she would try. Her eyelids were heavy, and in a moment they fell closed. She let the train’s northward movement rock her, and Will, too, and in a little while she did manage—however briefly—to let her family’s troubles fade from her mind. As she fell into sleep, she told herself that she was capable of executing her plan. It was would be easy, and then she would be able to repay her family for all the distress she had caused.Eighteen
Everyone knows a girl who made a good start to her social career and became compromised by being seen too often alone in the company of gentlemen or perhaps going too many times out of that hallowed sphere in which our young goddesses are meant to walk…. If she plans to live a long time in society, a girl cannot be too careful which streets she strolls upon and in whose homes she is a guest.
—MRS. L. A. M. BRECKINRIDGE,THE LAWS OF BEING IN WELL-MANNERED CIRCLES
“WHERE ARE YOU GOING?”
Diana turned slowly from the front door and looked back into the afternoon shadows that fell across the foyer behind her. She felt a small tug of conscience as Claire came forward in her simple black dress. Claire was her friend, after all—her best friend, she might have even said on some occasions. The maid was looking tired and a little worried now, and though Diana would have preferred her to be neither of those things, the guilt she was feeling was more likely based on the fact that the next words out of her mouth were going to be a lie.
“Outside for a little air.” Diana thought she managed to sound breezy enough.
“But it’s freezing outside, and from the way the sky’s looking there may be hail and—”
“I’ll bring an umbrella, then.” Diana looked into Claire’s wide, fair face, which was framed in reddish hair, and tried to look like someone above questioning.
“I won’t be able to make a fire, though, when you get back, since we’ve got no firewood, and if you should catch a chill…”
So her mother hadn’t managed to give Claire the money to keep the cold out.
“Dear Claire,” Diana said, releasing the brass doorknob for a moment and moving toward her friend. She took Claire’s hands in her own and kissed her on either cheek. “Order the firewood.”
“But they said they won’t defer payment any longer and that—”
“Tell them we shall pay on delivery. When I get back I will have money for them….”
She smiled, kissed the other girl’s milky forehead, and hurried out the door and down the stone steps to the street. “But you must wear a warmer coat!” she heard Claire exclaim as she hurried east.
Diana did not turn to acknowledge this last admonishment, even though she knew Claire to be correct on her final point. Clouds were forming ominous slate gray armories in the sky and she had not, as promised, brought an umbrella. There were still coats in the house, of course. Her mother had not yet stooped to selling off their wardrobe. But Diana was on a particular mission, and she wanted to look a certain way. She was wearing the new green velvet jacket that fit her so perfectly, and a long skirt of houndstooth check with blackbuttons that brought the fabric close to her hips. She was walking at a determined gait that would not have won the approval of any society matrons, and repeating to herself,Davis Barnard, 155 East Sixteenth Street, Third Floor.The wind was sharp and icy, but she hardly thought of it. Her skirt fluttered behind her as she went.
The building was a plain four-story apartment house with a brown face and two unblinking windows per floor. There was no answer at first, and as Diana stood still on the pavement the cold started to set in. The address hadn’t meant anything to her before a few days ago, but, as she waited, it occurred to her that it might have significance for others. Indeed, for all she knew, the ladies passing in their cold-weather hats and plain skirts were fully aware of the meaning of No. 155 East Sixteenth Street. This thought made her uncharacteristically self-conscious, and she pulled her conspicuous green coat close to her body as though it might somehow disguise her. Elizabeth would have thought of this possibility. Elizabeth would have considered who might be watching, instead of charging ahead on a whim.
“Hello down there!”
Diana craned her neck back and looked upward. She kept her hand on the straw top of her brimmed hat and squinted—for even a moody sky contains some light—at the head of Davis Barnard protruding from a third-floor window.
“Ah, Miss Truscott!” he called.
She spun, looking around her, but there seemed to be no other girls interested in that particular window.
“I meanyou,” Mr. Barnard went on, in a somewhat more circumspect voice.
“Oh,” Diana said, turning her gaze on the third floor again. “I wanted to come up,” she added simply.
A few seconds later a key attached to a large silver ring came clattering to the ground, and then Diana let herself in and climbed the stairs to the little apartment inhabited by the writer of theImperial’s society page.
“Miss Holland,” Mr. Barnard said, ushering her in, “how bold you are.”
“If you’d thought I was a priss, I doubt you would have approached me in the first place,” Diana replied, fixing her hands in the pockets of her skirt and looking around her. She took in the long and slender room and noted that its twilight blue paint had been applied some time ago; its walls were dotted with framed prints, and the floor was covered with layers of carpets. A cut-glass punch bowl figured prominently on the cabinet, the table was a mess of papers and notebooks and books, and the daybed seemed to have taken on a similar desk-like function, save that there were more pillows involved. “So this is what they mean when they say ‘bachelor apartment.’”
“Oh, yes, I am the ne plus ultra of bachelors.”
Diana’s cheekbones tinged red at the sound of a phrase she didn’t recognize. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Davis smiled where he might have laughed. “It means I have achieved the most profound degree of bachelorhood.”
“Is that so?” Diana replied aridly. She moved to the table and drew her fingers across the spines of a pile of books.
“Ah, I did not say the ne plus ultra of playboys or the ne plus ultra of roués. Only of bachelors, and you can see that my room will give you plenty of testimony to that end.”
Diana nodded, understanding but not wanting to seem too friendly, and moved closer to the fireplace, which was roaring cozily and decorated with a pair of boxing gloves strung up like Christmas stockings.
“Would you like some coffee?”
“Please.” Diana turned and observed her host, whose appearance was somewhat more rumpled than when she had met him out in the world. He wore a salmon-colored shirt under a dark gray vest, the forward curve of which suggested good living on the part of its wearer. A belly was contained there, like the back of an upholstered chair that has been a little overstuffed. His dark hair was cut so close to his head that it seemed to form three separate sections, one on the top and two on the sides, and below the unique brow was the same attentiveness in the eyes that had first tempted her to entertain his suit.
“How do you take it?” he asked as he poured the dark liquid from a silver pot on the side table.
Diana bit her lip. She was a tea drinker, most days. “However you do.”
“Well, then.” Davis reached to the shelf above him, where several bottles crowded out the reflection of a long, thin mirror, and he took down a decanter of brown alcohol, from which he poured a shot into each of their cups. “Please sit, Miss Diana,” he said as he handed her one of the cups and perched on the edge of the daybed.
She settled into the cane-backed chair and put her hands against the warm sides of the white cup. The sting of whiskey mingled with the steam of the coffee in her nose. Even on that historic night in Henry’s greenhouse, Diana had not felt quite so conscious of breaking the rules as she did now.Mother would die if she knew I was here!Diana thought, before realizing that that particular phrase wasn’t so amusing, given her mother’s current state of health, and banished the small smile that had crept onto her face.
Perhaps Davis sensed that her thoughts had turned to the impropriety of her visit, for he went on to say, with the same sly expression: “I never thought I’d see a Miss Holland here in my rooms.”
Diana shrugged evasively and took a sip of the heady coffee. Then she met his eyes and, letting her moods breakacross her face like fast-moving weather, smiled. “This is the best coffee I’ve ever had,” she said gaily. “Anyway, I haven’t come to talk about me. I have something to sell.”
“Oh?” The dark brow jutted upward, before Davis tilted his coffee cup and drained it. He placed the empty cup on the edge of the cluttered table and crossed his wrists on his knee. “What is it?”
“Well,”Diana began, switching the cross of her legs and rolling her warm brown eyes to the ceiling, “If I were the writer, I’d phrase it thusly: ‘The new Mrs. Ralph Darroll was seen giving an intimate dinner party in her new home on Madison Avenue, a gift from her paternal uncle for her marriage just last month, and is reported to already be wearing dresses in the style they callempire.’”
“I think I see your point.” Davis paused and knit his fingers together so that he could rest his chin on them. “But it’s a little subtle for the common reader, don’t you think?”
This stung slightly, as Diana had been working out the wording all morning, but, not to be hindered, she pressed her hands into her thighs, exhaled, and tried again. “Then what if you added: ‘Could it be for the same reason that good Empress Josephine favored the style? In which case, there may be a Ralph Jr. in less than half a year.’”
“Verygood, Miss Di. I see you’re a fan of my columns.”
Diana smiled happily at the compliment and chose toignore its second half. She looked at the old family daguerreotypes on the mantel, and then let her eyes fall on a vellum-bound book of poems on the edge of the table nearest her.
“I’ll run it this week,” Davis told her. Diana’s gaze snapped back to her host. She wasn’t sure why this news gave her such pleasure, but she found herself clapping her hands together like a giddy little girl.
“It’s at the same rate,” Davis, his dark eyes ever watchful, continued. “Of course, I could double your money.”
“How?” Diana asked, lowering her hands and trying to look like a person who drove a hard bargain.
“The readers of the ‘Gamesome Gallant’ column are always interested in the doings of the Hollands, and surely they’d like to know what Miss Diana Holland was doing at the Ralph Darrolls’, when by all societal measures she should be in black at home, still mourning for her sister, or perhaps tending to a mother whom people say isn’t well….”
Diana had to look away from Davis. She had never been a good girl, and yet sitting in this small, cluttered room, drinking whiskey in her coffee, and telling secrets about her people was beginning to feel something like exposure. But it was also, in its way, exhilarating. She stood and walked to the window, with its faded velveteen cushions and old lace curtains, where she paused to let the last of her coffee burn a streak down her throat and into her stomach.
“You’re a very special source to me,” Davis went on in a more serious tone. “I’d never write something about you unless you allowed me to. And I know your mother is very old-fashioned. But I also know you’ve been out with three gentlemen in hardly more days, so I think she’s got an objective that wouldn’t necessarily be impeded by my mentioning your name….”
Of course Diana, looking down on the huddled crowds who were now leaving work en masse and traveling home wrapped in their bulky dark garments, was not wondering what her mother would think when she saw the item. She was imagining Henry, reading about her with his friend, ideally turning purple with rage and then, perhaps, challenging Teddy to a duel. Oh, she wouldn’t want anybody getting hurt, of course, but there was nothing like a little chest-beating to remind a man where his true feelings lay. Not that she even knew exactly what to think of Henry, if he cared more for Penelope than for her, but she did want him to regret losing her. She wanted his regret to equal hers. She wanted it to be greater.
It occurred to her, standing at the edge of that little room and looking down, selling observations that were supposed to evaporate in the air so that they would be laid down in print instead, that she was no longer an innocent. She was always doing this of course, feeling one day that she was experiencedand then waking up the next and realizing how naïve she had been. But she was pretty sure she had now crossed some line.
“I think that would make a very interesting item, Mr. Barnard,” she said, turning away from the window and perching against the sill. “And if you’ll pour me a little more of your magical coffee I’ll tell you how I’d put it.”
Davis gave her his crooked smile and went back to the cabinet.
Diana looked across the warm little oblong room, which she had decided fit perfectly her idea of a literary garret, and sighed contentedly. “I’d begin: ‘The enchanting Miss Diana Holland was seen chatting intimately….’”
It is common knowledge that at every dinner party ever given since the dawn of time, the guests have been sat such that the sexes alternate: male, female, male, female, etc. This is the way nature intended it, and it has allowed many a happy hostess to claim some kind of credit in the forming of romantic alliances that otherwise outshine them.
––VAN KAMP’S GUIDE TO HOUSEKEEPING FOR LADIES OF HIGH SOCIETY, 1899EDITION
“DID YOU NOTICE SOMETHING DIFFERENT?” ISABELLEwhispered to Penelope, seated beside her at the long Schoonmaker dining table, just as the venison in port wine sauce was being served. She was wearing a dress of pale yellow tulle finished with antique lace that flounced around her shoulders and came, once or twice when she was bending forward to whisper girlishly, a little closer to the buttery platter of pommes parisienne than Penelope would have wanted her own dress to. “A little rule I’ve broken?”
Penelope had in fact noticed that all of the ladies were seated in a row, and though she would have preferred to have been sitting right next to Henry, she saw the genius of having them all on display. There were few comparisons that did not flatter the young Miss Hayes, and sitting next to Prudence Schoonmaker certainly set off her attractive qualities as sitting next to a gentleman might not have. Isabelle, on her left, had kept her engaged in a conversation about dresses through the early courses, which was a subject that Penelopefound acceptably diverting on any given day, but particularly enlightening when it turned to Henry’s favorite cuts. Prudie, on her right, happily had not been moved to say anything as yet.
“It’ssomuch more fun this way,” the hostess went on, gushing.
“Divine,” Penelope replied, sipping her champagne. “Soon all the other hostesses will be imitating you. Of course, you must be careful, or all the men in New York will blame you for having corrupted their wives.”
Penelope gave the full benefit of her sharp white shoulder to Prudie—who had just made an unattractive noise in response to this comment—and offered up a discreet laugh in Isabelle’s direction, who in any event had already turned to her friend Lucy Carr, the wraithlike divorcée who was seated on her other side. “Lucy, you’ve got to hear what Penny just said. She just said that all the men in New York will say I’ve corrupted their wives and…”
Across the table, through a bower of orchids, Penelope glimpsed Henry. He was talking more than usual, perhaps because he was seated next to Nicholas Livingston, who could be expansive on the subject of yachts, and he had not looked at her all evening. This had provoked a dull ache in the back of her throat but did little to dim the sense of mission that she had brought with her to the Schoonmakers’. Indeed, herwhole body tingled with it. She had dressed for triumph in a garment of gossamer, which framed her bustline in filmy layers, and crepe de chine, which cascaded down toward her high-heeled slippers and overwhelmed her toes. The dress was so pale a pink it was virtually white, though her favorite color was represented in the small red medallions at the shoulders and a hundred little bows down near the hem. It fit her exceptionally well; Penelope had spent all of yesterday at the dressmaker’s making sure that this was so.
The waiters were still fussing around the epic table, and the smell of the venison was turning Penelope’s stomach. She wrinkled her nose, despite the risks this posed to her skin, at its rising fumes. She’d never imagined she’d agree with the old hostesses and their draconian dining rules, but she had begun to conclude that it really was more proper to alternate the sexes—being so completely in the company of women was not a thing Penelope had ever been fond of. The only one in that row of ladies whose friendship she cared about just then was Isabelle. She could not complain of Isabelle’s efforts to bring her close to Henry. Complain she did of course, if only in her own head, for though Henry was ideally positioned to make eyes at her, his attentions remained stubbornly elsewhere.
Penelope waited patiently through the cheeses. She checked her reflection in the polished silver ice bucket that lay amongst all the flowers and heaping serving trays, gentlyevening the line of small dark bangs on her high white forehead. She moved the food on her plate around, and turned her denuded shoulders so that they most ideally caught the light. She squeezed the hand of her hostess once or twice and allowed Mrs. Carr to go into raptures about Penelope’s bright future in society and what a lot of good it did everybody to see a fresh face.
“Wherever has that brother of yours been?” Mrs. Carr asked, segueing awkwardly, as though the question had been on her mind for some time.
Penelope noted Isabelle’s blush, and then gave her the abridged version of what she had told her hostess on Monday. She had just received a telegram from Grayson that afternoon, however, and so she was able to add, “He’s on his way back to New York now, though, so you’ll soon be able to ask him all these questions yourself.”
At last the dinner was over, and the whole party—forty or so stuffed and tipsy people—moved to the ballroom.
“How ever are you going to cheer your stepson up?” Penelope asked, with a little sympathetic waver in her voice, once she had settled herself between Mrs. Schoonmaker and Mrs. Carr on the rust velvet causeuse at the center of the ballroom. Her position in the middle was calculated, for the divorcée—with her ringing laugh and head of lioness curls—could only accentuate the younger woman’s virginal façade.She risked a look out of the corner of her eye at the elder Schoonmaker, who was standing just below a large, Gallic-looking mural and talking with a man of too advanced an age to be of much interest, and concluded that he had taken note. Dull Spencer Newburg was standing in their vicinity, and Penelope noticed that his sister Mrs. Gore had been watching her as though she were considering her for a part in a play.
“I don’t know! Lucy, how are we going to cheer him up?” Mrs. Schoonmaker leaned across Penelope’s lap as she spoke, resting her silk fan against Penelope’s skirt.
“If I were you,” Mrs. Carr answered confidentially, “I’d contrive to have him dance with Miss Hayes.”
Mrs. Schoonmaker clasped her hands at this suggestion, which was just the one—Penelope felt sure—she’d been fishing for.
“Oh, but if he isn’t in a dancing spirit…” she demurred.
“Nonsense.” Mrs. Schoonmaker gave her a look that indicated they understood each other and then rose and went, with casual purpose, toward her husband, yellow flounces rustling in her wake.
Penelope watched as the hostess brushed aside the older man—it was Carey Lewis Longhorn, she saw now—and said a few pointed words to Mr. Schoonmaker. Then she shifted her eyes to the many large paintings in huge gilt frames, which were arranged salon style on the opposite wall, in time for herhost to look over and note her discomfort at being left alone with a gaudy divorcée in the middle of a public room. She brought Isabelle’s abandoned fan up to shield her mouth.
“I wonder what Schoonmaker has to talk about with Carey Longhorn. Mr. Longhorn’s my friend, of course, but they’ve never been in the same circles…” Mrs. Carr was saying, but Penelope hardly registered it, for she was keeping careful track in her peripheral vision of what Henry’s father and stepmother were doing. They had come to an agreement, and they were excusing themselves and then going jointly across the floor to the corner where Henry was, somehow or other, still engaged in a conversation with Nicholas Livingston. Penelope steeled herself. She willed the full, dewy, attention-getting affect of her physical appearance. She batted the fan and waited.
“He was seen with some young thing at the opera the other night—can you imagine? It would be something if he married at this point, and to a girl who might be his granddaughter!”
Penelope was only half listening. She had become aware of the music, which emanated from a quartet in the next room. She took a breath that brought composure into all corners of her body. She let her eyelids quiver shut, and when she opened them, Henry, dressed in the usual tailored blacks, occupied the central position in her view. Over his shoulder Mr. and Mrs.Schoonmaker were visible, watching; Mrs. Carr rose, winked showily, and allowed herself to be taken into conversation by Mr. Longhorn. All around the room, Penelope thought, people were aware that Henry Schoonmaker was about to ask Penelope Hayes to dance.
“Hello,” Henry said simply.
Penelope kept her chin down even as her lake-blue eyes rolled to meet his. “Don’t nights like these make you miss Elizabeth so?”
Henry shifted his jaw and appeared to consider how best to answer this. “It’s not nights like these that do it.”
“Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have her back,” Penelope sighed, putting a little misery into the rise and fall of her shoulders.
“You forget, I know you,” Henry replied quickly. There was a certain fire in his eye. “And I think honesty becomes you much better.”
The reference to their former intimacy felt nearly as good as the touch of his hands on her would have, and she looked back at him baldly.
“That’s better.” Henry wore a smile of knowing resignation as he reached for Penelope’s hand. “They say we should dance.”
Then she really did feel his hands, ever so lightly over her gloved fingers, as she allowed herself to be helped up andswept through the polished oak archway and into the adjoining room, where three or four other couples moved in subdued circles. Henry was looking at her as though he were trying to figure her out, and after his last comment she made no effort to disguise anything in her reciprocal gaze. There was a woodenness to his movements that was new since the last time they’d danced, so many months ago, but still she could feel the distant press of his leg through her skirts.
“I think you really are broken about it,” she said finally. She tipped her head thoughtfully to the side as they turned.
“About Elizabeth?” Henry closed his eyes and lowered his voice, although there was no real need. The musicians in the corner played loudly enough that the other couples would not hear them as they moved, their bodies rising and falling, across the room. “How could I not be, over something so awful. But I suppose it would be like you,” he went on, almost affectionately, “to be black-hearted about it.”
“On the contrary, I miss my friend tremendously. But you forget how she betrayed me.”
“Oh, Penelope,” Henry answered, in a veritable whisper. The room, with its peach-colored flocked wallpaper, moved around behind him. “It hardly matters now.”
“No, what matters is that she’s dead. Which is a tragedy.”
Henry was silent, considering his answer. “Yes, that’s exactly it,” he said eventually.
“That’s why you don’t flirt anymore? Why you never look for fun like you used to? Why you don’t look at me in that particular way?”
“It just wouldn’t be right,” Henry responded with quiet intensity. The touch of his hand at her lower back was so faint she could hardly stand it.
“Ah, no.” Penelope felt the low light of the room landing on her high cheekbones like so many particles of gold. She tried to tell herself not to say it all at once, though already her lips burned pleasantly with the information. “But it wouldn’t seem that way if you knew what I knew.”
They were now speaking in such low voices that they were by necessity drawn closer into each other. “What do you know, Penny?”
“That Elizabeth is alive.” Penelope was surprised, even after all the planning, by how much pleasure that phrase could give her.
Henry’s left eye twitched and his grip on her tightened involuntarily, but he managed to keep dancing as before, if a beat faster. “What are you talking about?”
“She faked her death to escape marrying you.” Penelope’s smile had achieved its most full and glorious expression. They were moving faster now, across the floor, without any thought to Adelaide Wetmore and Regis Doyle, whom they nearly cut when they turned. “Ihelped.”
“You…where is she?” Henry’s eyes were wide and full of fire. He was watching her, trying to decide what to believe.
“In California. It seems she wasn’t in love with you at all, Henry. It seems she might have been—”
“You mean she didn’t fall in the river?” Henry interrupted. He was blinking rapidly and speaking in a slower, stupider voice then Penelope had ever heard him use.
Penelope gave a slow satisfied shake of her head.There,she thought.I have really stunned him.
“You mean she’s all right?”
But if Henry had registered the irritated tone creeping into Penelope’s voice, he did not have time to show it. The world-weary face he had been wearing around for months was gone and the old roguish gleam had come back into his eye. He stopped dancing and let go of her, which caused everyone else in the room to stop dancing too—to Penelope’s great horror—the better to watch what was unfolding. Henry looked briefly at the other couples and did not bother to hide the smile on his face. He reached for Penelope’s hand and kissed it. “I am needed elsewhere…” was the only excuse he gave, before quickly exiting the room.
“Oh,” said Adelaide, her right hand still held aloft by her partner, Mr. Doyle. “I hope he’s all right,” she said out loud, but the way she looked after him indicated she wasmore concerned with losing her chance to dance with the young man of the house over the rest of the evening.
Penelope’s dark lashes fluttered and her irritation rose up. All around her people were staring in amusement. She couldn’t remember a time when her wishes had been so continually thwarted. There was still the smell of Henry, his cognac and cigarettes and a slight whiff of the cologne he wore, and the faint impress of his hand at her back. But what she felt most acutely was the humiliation of being left on the dance floor, amongst her inferiors, with only a smarting heart and the ruins of a grand plan.
The elements that make an ideal bride are manifold: her looks, her manners, her father’s money, her mother’s people all play a part. But of course she is nothing without that air of purity which surrounds the most desirable debutantes.
—MRS. HAMILTON W. BREEDFELT,COLLECTED COLUMNS ON RAISING YOUNG LADIES OF CHARACTER, 1899
OUTSIDE OF THE SCHOONMAKERS’ FIFTH AVENUEmansion it had begun to snow. The air felt warmer than Henry had expected, and the flakes were so gentle that they melted on his nose as though it were nothing more than a fine mist. The sidewalk was taking on a patina of lacy white, upon which Henry’s dark footprints fell with exuberant lightness. In a few minutes the whole world had changed. Now he knew what that last, clear-eyed look his fiancée had given him had meant—not that she chose death, but that she chose another life, one that would allow her little sister to be with the one she loved. He was already past the clutch of waiting coachmen warming themselves from their flasks by the curb, and heading toward Gramercy Park.
No. 17 had been Elizabeth’s house to him, a place where he went at first with a lukewarm sense of obligation and later with a weighty sense of his own poor behavior. Before that it had been just another well-appointed landmark on the tour of properties owned by the Old New York families whosegentility was becoming more and more outdated every day. On that Tuesday evening, it was only Diana’s house to him. All the rooms but hers could burn for all he cared. That low feeling that he had been living under was gone. The central facts upon which that feeling was based—that Elizabeth was dead, that he was to blame, that youth was fragile, that he could not be with the one girl who made matrimony seem attractive—had been dispelled by a few words. There was only one person with whom Henry might have wanted to share this great good news, and, conveniently enough, she was the sister of the girl who wasn’t dead.
He could not have been sure how long it took him to arrive there. It felt like no time, and yet it must have been forever, because somewhere in between the limestone edifice on Fifth and the simple brown town house on Gramercy, all of his mistakes had been erased and he was again a man without regrets. The last and only time he had seen Diana’s bedroom he had reached it by the trellis, but he had now so fully recovered his uncircumspect self that he walked straight up to the front door and found that it opened easily at his touch. This was all the invitation he needed, and into the darkened foyer he went. He continued on to the second floor, taking no notice of details, and there he chose the door with light under the jamb. There was no knocking this time, either. He turned the knob and went in.
The little room was cast in warm lamplight, whichilluminated the damask walls and the bookshelves and the bear rug by the unlit fire. Beside it was an old wing chair, where Diana sat in a pile of white laces with her dark ringlets in heaps, looking fixedly at a book. Perhaps she assumed that the open door meant only the intrusion of her maid, for she didn’t immediately look up from the page. Her legs were disguised under an old quilt and her eyes continued along the lines of her novel as though nothing in the world were so important. When she reached the end of her paragraph she laid the book in her lap and looked up. She realized that it was not her maid, and then the whites of her eyes expanded and her mouth opened as though she might scream.
Henry was at her side immediately, his hand over her mouth. “Don’t,” he said in a gentle voice.
Her eyes widened, but he must have conveyed something to her with his tone, because some of the anguish and surprise went out of them. There remained, in her great brown irises, a kind of apprehensive wondering, however, and at last she said, with quietness to match his own: “I can’t imagine what you would be doing here.”
“I am here.” His voice was full of absurd good luck, and he gave her a lopsided smile that he thought might convey how pleased he was by this fact.
She only went on staring at him in the same way. “I can see that.”
“Di…” Henry fell to one knee and reached for her hand, but she was quicker than he and drew it away.
“Our last meeting didn’t leave much room for friendliness, Mr. Schoonmaker. If you really think you have a chance of seducing me on any random dark night you choose, I can assure you that you are wrong.”
Henry was confused by this hard, cold version of Diana, and he paused and tried to draw on his vast experience, hoping he somehow already knew how to deal with such a situation. But he had never had an experience like this one before. He opened his mouth a few times but failed to produce any sentences. He decided to try taking up her hand again, and at last she allowed him to—albeit with a certain cold disinclination—and then he finally found the words. “Elizabeth is alive,” he said.
Diana closed the book in her lap and sat up straight. She left her hand in his—a positive sign, which he found himself ridiculously pleased with—but she went on staring at him searchingly. When she at last whispered, “I know,” some of the thaw was off her voice.
“You know?” This was a shock, but Henry was too elated to really parse it. “But that morning, after you came to the greenhouse…I saw Elizabeth…I thought she…might not have wanted to live—”
“No,” Diana said cautiously. “She’s alive. And quite happy, I think.”
“Well, it’s all right, then, don’t you see? I mean, if she’s all right, if she isn’t dead, if she never wanted to marry me anyway and that was some colossal mistake, then you and I can be together. You and I can—” Here he broke off and allowed the arch of a dark eyebrow to complete his thought. He realized that his knee, digging into the floorboards, pained him, and he sat down on the floor beside her chair. “You should have told me a long time ago.”
The rose was returning to Diana’s cheek, but the way she was looking at him still suggested caution. There was something almost unbearably poignant about seeing her here in her small room, with its salmon-colored walls and books, the room where she had been a little girl. “It’s a secret. I promised Elizabeth. If anyone were to find out…” She pulled back her hand again all of a sudden and brought the lace collar of her dressing gown in close over the skin of her neck. “How did you find out?”
“Penelope told me. She just told me, less than an hour ago. My stepmother was giving a dinner party—”
“What is it between you and Penelope?” Diana had stood up, and she moved away from Henry across the floor toward the narrow bed, with its headboard upholstered in pale pink silk.
That Diana might feel jealous of Penelope had not occurred to him. Still, his sense of lightness and emancipationhad not diminished and he stood and placed his hands in his coat pockets. He gave her a long, serious look, holding her gaze with composed affection. “There is nothing between Penelope and me,” he enunciated.
“Nothing?” Diana answered bitterly. “How could I possibly believe that? I’m not blind, you know, and I’m not totally out of things. I see how she looks at you. And I know what you have been.”
“The way she looks at me doesn’t say anything about my feelings for her, which are exactly as I’ve told you. They are nothing. Haven’t I always been honest with you?” he went on in a softer tone. “I was the one who told you what had passed between Penelope and me, so why would I lie now?”
“Because you’re a bounder, I suppose.”
Diana’s face was full of outrage, but her breath was stuck and her heart seemed to be almost visibly beating. Henry could see plainly that she was at war with herself and that she didn’t know what to believe. He went on looking at her with all the weight of his sincerity and then he moved toward her. He took her little face in his hands and kissed her open mouth.
The kiss lasted a long time, and when it was over she whispered, “You’re not a bounder.”
“It’s all right.” Henry began to play with one of the curls behind her ear. “Your sister’s alive, Di, which means there’s no tragedy here, no grand betrayal. If we wanted we could—”
He was interrupted by the sound of the doorbell from below, which was faint but definite, as it repeated itself over the silence in the house.
Diana’s eyes went around the room and then met his. There was trepidation in her gaze, and when the bell sounded a third time, she said, “Maybe it’s Elizabeth?”
“Elizabeth?” This seemed unlikely to Henry, but then, his expectations were being so quickly overturned that he was disinclined to fully dismiss any possibility. “Wouldn’t she just let herself in? That’s what I did, and I’m not even related….”
Another girl, coming on the possibility of being discovered with a man to whom she was neither engaged nor married, would have gone into an agony of self-recrimination and wrung her hands at the specter of her coming ruin. Not Diana. There was a bite of the lip and an extension of her white neck and then she took Henry’s hand and led him to her door. She opened it deftly and they moved out of the room in silence. Down the hall they went, her arm extended backward to pull him, her hand gripping his with affectionate confidence. She stopped them just before the top of the stair, so that they were obscured from down below by a wall. A light had gone on in the foyer.
“Mr. Cairns,” said a female voice that Henry didn’t recognize, “we haven’t seen you in such a long time. What brings you here, and so very late at night?”
Diana looked back at him, and through the darkness he saw that the perfect roundness of her lips was mouthing, “Aunt Edith.”
“I’m very sorry for the impropriety, Miss Holland. I’ve just come from Boston and I would have arrived at a much more acceptable hour had not the weather taken a turn for the worse. I have been meaning to pay you a visit since I heard of Miss Elizabeth’s unfortunate passing, but business detained me. I have recently been hearing reports of your family’s distress and I—”
“Mr. Cairns, please, there is no need for you to explain yourself. I will have the maid make up a bed for you. In the meantime, go into the drawing room. Mrs. Holland is ill, far to ill too receive you. But I will get Miss Di and…”
Edith continued her speech downstairs, but at the mention of her name Diana turned, startled. She moved in close to Henry without any definite purpose and lifted her little chin upward. The shadows falling across her features only made him yearn to see her more clearly, and he had to look away to keep himself from lifting her up and pressing her small body into the wall with his.
“You have to go,” Diana whispered.
“I know. I’ll come back soon. I’ll come back every day hoping to get you alone.”
“Good.” She gestured unhappily toward her room. “The trellis…”
Henry had met before with the trellis to Diana’s bedroom, and it had ended with bruises and scratches and a wedding date being moved up. “No, not that again.” He could not stop himself from giving her a knowing little grin, despite the danger.
Diana pressed her lips together and her eyes darted. “The servants’ stairs, then.”
She gestured to the door. Henry had been so absorbed in the facts of her skin and the glitter of her eyes that he did not notice, until just then, that the conversation downstairs had come to an end and that there were footsteps falling on the stairs. He moved quickly to the door Diana had indicated and without even the luxury of a backwards glance went down the narrow, dark servants’ stairs. He was concentrating on the sounds of feet above, going up, and so didn’t consider what he might find at the bottom. That was how he came stealthily into the kitchen and saw the back of a maid in a coarse black dress, bending over a stove.
She was tired—this was evident by the stoop of her shoulders—and her red hair was only partially restrained as it fell down her back. She must have been awakened by the bell, and seemed to be going about her task of making tea and setting up a tray with a slowness that would not have been tolerated earlier in the day, or in another house. Henry crept along the wall, stepping mindfully across the old wooden planks of the floor.His thoughts were moving so quickly and his blood was so astir that he was shocked that his presence wasn’t deafening to her. But she kept at her work with a sleepy diligence, and Henry managed to go out into the hall without her noticing him.
The foyer was lit by a gas lamp but was empty of any human presence. Henry was swift, and in a moment he was back out in the night air, moving steadily north past the iron gate of the pleasant park, which was now covered in a thickening blanket of white. He was breathing rapidly. He had escaped unnoticed. A few moments ago he and the girl who owned all of his affections had been at great risk, but the risk had passed. The improbability of this only lightened his mood and reminded him that the world was his to play in. He hadn’t felt so free in a long time.
He crossed the street, its white sheet of new-fallen snow reflecting the purplish light of the street lamps, and walked north along the park. It was at the northwest corner that he came across a small band of men wrapped up in coats and scarves and caroling with all the power of their stout bellies, “And heaven and nature sing! And heaven and nature sing! And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing!” He paused and watched them, feeling in the moment as though they had been placed there with the express purpose of voicing his inner exaltations. One of the men noticed Henry and immediately laced armswith him, pulling him along with the group as they headed toward Fifth.
“I had no idea it was so near Christmas,” Henry said, when the song was over. He didn’t recognize any of the men, though they were dressed well enough. They had apparently been to another party before this one.
“Oh, yes, it’s the twentieth tomorrow,” replied the man who had drawn him in jovially. He reached into his coat and produced a metal flask. “Any excuse for some brandy—do have some,” he added with a slight slurring of the final word.
“Much obliged.” Henry took the flask and happily swigged to the lifting of his cares and the restoration of his girl.
“Say, friend,” the man went on genially, “do you know any other carols?”
Henry had suffered through caroling several times in his life, but at that moment he was unable to remember any song besides “Joy to the World,” and said so.
The little band roared at this, and then picked up the song again from the beginning. They were louder this time and Henry felt its message all the more. He took another swig and began to sing along, too, as they moved joyously onto the avenue, thoughts of Diana and her glossy lips and their future together dancing in his head.