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Authors: Clarissa Ross

Beloved Scoundrel

BOOK: Beloved Scoundrel
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A LEISURE BOOK

 

Published by

Nordon Publications, Inc.

Two Park Avenue

New York, NY 10016

 

Copyright 1980 by Nordon Publications, Inc.

All rights reserved

Printed in the United States

 

Another for Merle and Melvin Clarke

who mean so much to me

 

 

Scanner’s Note: There were many typos in the original book. I have corrected them to make it read more smoothly.

Chapter 1

 

Fanny Cornish rushed up on deck, hand in hand with her good-looking, actor husband, David. Her lovely face wore a smile of sheer happiness and her red hair was brushed slightly by the brisk breeze as they took their places at that rail with the other passengers for their first look at New York Harbor.

 

A few minutes earlier she had raced down to their small cabin and excitedly told him, “We’ve arrived! We’re in America at last! We’re just moving into the harbor! Come quickly!”

 

Dark-haired, handsome David Cornish had good-naturedly allowed his wife to take his hand and hurry him up to the deck where they now stood watching the forest of sails of the many vessels at anchor in the great harbor. Small ships and large ones from every part of the globe, and in the background the bulk of buildings representing the city of a half-million known as New York.

 

“Not as impressive as London, my dear,” the young actor told her.

 

“We can’t tell properly from here,” she reminded him. “In any case it’s not as old as London. But it is a famed theatrical city and I’m sure we will do well!”

 

David smiled and squeezed her hand. “How can it be anything else but good, with my new, beloved wife at my side.”

 

“Thank you, David,” she said. “I feel this year 1860 will mark the opening of a new life for us. We shall win ourselves a place on the stage here.”

 

Few on board the sailing ship which had brought them from London knew that both she and David had established themselves as favorites of the London theatre before their marriage. Fanny, for her part, was glad to leave London behind her. It was filled with too many bitter memories; the daughter of an actor, she once had fallen on evil times, and been forced to take domestic work in the house of Lord Palmer in London.

 

It was while she was in his house she met, and became truly infatuated with, his eldest son, George. It was a case of true love. But his father’s opposition to the match and her returning to the theatre had postponed the marriage. Some years later, when she was a London success on stage, she met George Palmer again. But he had married a neurotic woman who took her own life and cast suspicion on her husband as her possible murderer!

 

Because of this and the scandal following the incident Fanny had reluctantly said goodbye to her titled lover. To save both her reputation and that of the man she loved, she realized she would have to leave England. Captain Charles Palmer, brother to Lord George, had always loved her from afar. And he came forward with the suggestion that she marry him and go to India with him when he joined his regiment. She agreed to the arrangement though she no more than liked the young army officer.

 

Then actor David Cornish had appeared and insisted such a match would be wrong. He pleaded with her to marry him; they had acted together and long been good friends, and she realized he was right. She loved the theatre and David was the one closest to her heart after George. So she married him.

 

David had been promised a starring engagement at a New York theatre and she would be his leading lady. Her new happiness almost erased the tragic memories of her lost love and London. This was to be a beginning again, and she prayed that all might go well for them.

 

Her husband smiled at her, “The sun is shining and it is pleasantly mild on this spring day. I hope it will be a good omen.”

 

“The whole voyage has been wonderful,” she enthused. “I’ve been told by the Captain and others we should be grateful. It can often be terribly rough on the Atlantic at this time of year. And we had relatively passive weather all the way here!”

 

“Things have begun well,” David agreed. “But I’m impatient to be on land and talk over plans with our new manager, Desmond Dempsey.”

 

“His offer seemed most generous,” Fanny said.

 

David nodded. “He will set me up in my own company for a season in New York to be followed by a tour.”

 

“Will he be at the dock to meet us?” she wondered.

 

“I’d expect so,” her husband agreed. “He promised that he would be on hand to guide us in his last letter. After all, we do not know the city, or the best locations for a hotel and all the rest.”

 

Fanny said, “It will be best to follow his guidance.”

 

As she finished speaking a big, jolly man with gray side-whiskers came up to them. His name was Adam Burns and he was a hardware merchant. He bowed and said, “So we have managed to arrive safely.”

 

Fanny smiled at the older man. “It has been a great pleasure knowing you.”

 

“And the same for me,” the genial Adam Burns said to them. “I’ve enjoyed our card games and conversations. And I hope I may see you on the New York stage.”

 

“Our manager is supposed to be at the dock to greet us,” David Cornish said. “His name is Desmond Dempsey.”

 

The hardware merchant chuckled. “Well, it has a theatrical sound to it though I must confess I don’t know the fellow. But as New York is a large city it is impossible to know everyone. I shall look for some notice of your appearance in the newspapers.”

 

“Thank you,” David said and shook his hands with him. “The vessel is going directly to the dock. I suppose we should get our things together.”

 

“Yes, I’m about to do the same,” the hardware merchant said. “Perhaps I’ll see you later when we go ashore.” And he tipped his gray tophat and went on his way.

 

Fanny gazed after him with admiring eyes. “Mr. Burns is a typical American! Outgoing and generous! I’m sure we are going to like it here.”

 

David gave her a tender smile. “I have found myself always happy when we are together.”

 

They went below and hurriedly began packing their hand luggage. And by the time they had finished this task and spoken to the Purser about their trunks which would come off the ship separately, it was time to join the line on deck waiting to descend the gangplank to the docks.

 

The scene on the wharf was one of sheer pandemonium. As the passengers descended from the ship they were usually greeted by friends and relatives with much delight and often happy tears! Carts and carriages were drawn up close to the busy wharf and sailors from the ship, and dock workers, were shouting and beginning the delivery of cargo to the dock. Porters were arriving to take the luggage to the carts and all this activity was conducted to the accompaniment of harsh new accents unfamiliar to Fanny’s ears.

 

She stood there in blue bonnet and flowing dress of the same color with her hands pressed to her ears in a state of pretty confusion. She cried to her young actor husband, “How can anyone ever find anyone in this mad crowd?”

 

He took her by the arm so they would not be parted. He said, “I think we should just stand here and no doubt Desmond Dempsey will seek us out. He has my likeness which I mailed him some months ago when we were discussing terms.”

 

The bedlam continued around them. Fanny saw that trunks were now being stacked on the dock and she was sure she recognized theirs among them. But thus far there had been no sign of the manager whom they’d expected to meet them.

 

From out of the clamoring crowd appeared the familiar, jolly face of the elderly Adam Burns.

 

“How are you making out?” he wanted to know.

 

“Not too well,” David said in a worried tone.

 

“My manager doesn’t seem to be here. Or at least he hasn’t found us if he is.”

 

The hardware merchant frowned. “That’s too bad!”

 

“What shall we do?” Fanny worried.

 

David considered. “Perhaps we should find a carriage to take us and our luggage to suitable lodgings and then try and contact Mr. Dempsey. It could be that some business or even illness has kept him away.”

 

The burly Adam Burns nodded sympathetically. “A sound idea, young man,” he said. “I have my carriage here. It is large enough for all of us. And I can drop you off at some place in the theatre area.”

 

“Do you know of any theatrical boarding house?” David asked him.

 

The big man with the gray side-whiskers rubbed his chin. “As a matter of fact, I do. I have supplied hardware items to Mrs. Larkins’ Family Hotel. I understand she takes a number of theatre people.”

 

“Then we could try there,” Fanny said, feeling relieved. “How fortunate for us to have a friend like you.”

 

The old man looked pleased and said, “Not at all. Come along my dear, I’ll see you out of this confusion to my carriage. Then Mr. Cornish and I can look after getting the luggage.”

 

He escorted her through the crowds to a large black carriage with gilt trim. An elderly black man in coachman’s outfit stood respectfully by the vehicle and opened the door for her to enter and seat herself.

 

Adam Burns smiled at her as he poked his head in the carriage door. “I’ll leave you in Sam’s care,” he said. “Your husband and I will have the luggage here shortly.”

 

So they were soon being driven through the streets of New York in the wealthy hardware merchant’s private carriage. From the window Fanny could see that the streets were as busy with people and vehicles as those in London. It struck her that the streets were wider and the people taller than those at home.

 

“We are on Broadway,” Adam Burns told them as the carriage was driven along a pleasant tree-lined street. “It is the site of many of our finest theatres and hotels. We now have horse cars on many of the avenues but Broadway has been spared. The city needs all the public transportation it can get, the business district is already reaching up to Twenty-Fifth Street!”

 

David said, “I’m not sure which theatre our manager has in mind for us.”

 

“There are many,” Burns told him. “The old Park, the Astor Place Opera House, Mitchell’s Old Olympic Theatre, Niblo’s Garden and Saloon and Barnum’s museum!”

 

Fanny smiled, “The fame of Mr. P.T. Barnum has even reached us in England. Was he not the impresario of Jenny Lind on her American tour?”

 

“He was, indeed,” the burly man seated opposite her agreed. “Lately he has fallen on some hard times. We’re at the moment recovering from a recession here in America. P.T. Barnum retired to Bridgeport to offer himself as mayor there but things did not turn out well. He also lost a considerable fortune in bad investments so he has returned to exhibiting his freaks at his museum here.”

 

“I once worked in a small freak museum in London, in the days when I was trying to break into the theatre,” Fanny said.

 

Adam Burns showed surprise on his jolly, red face. “I can imagine you as many things, my dear, but never a freak!”

 

David Cornish laughed. “But she was one!” He looked at her fondly. “The prettiest mermaid ever to greet the London public. Suitably fitted with a false fish tail, of course.”

 

“I shall never forget those days,” Fanny said.

 

“It taught me a lot about audiences.”

 

“I dare say,” the hardware merchant replied. “Well, you must see Barnum’s Museum. Best of its kind. Though he is a bit of a faker. Had an old black woman whom he claimed was the nurse of George Washington, and a hundred and sixty one years old. It turned out afterwards she was a mere eighty. But it made him a lot of money!”

 

“He’s a master showman, I understand,” David said. “And much of the stage is pure showmanship. So he should do well.”

 

Adam Burns nodded. “I understand he has recouped his fortune and is planning new ventures.” He pointed out the window at a stately stone building. “That is the Fifth Avenue Hotel built by Amos R. Eno. Built on the site of an old circus amphitheatre. Folk used to call it Eno’s folly because some of his neighbors kept goats in the area and they felt no hotel could prosper in such a location. But wealthy families have moved in and built fine houses around it since then and now it is one of the best known hotels in the city!”

 

“Where is Mrs. Larkins’ place located?” Fanny asked.

 

“Around the corner from Broadway on Franklin Street,” the old man said. “We ought to be there quite soon.”

 

Shortly after this the carriage turned the corner and they were in Franklin Street. About a half-block from Broadway they stopped in front of a modest wooden house of three stories. There was a sign painted in black letters on a white background beside the front door. The sign read: Rooms and Board.

 

David jumped out of the carriage while Fanny waited inside with their benefactor. She watched as David in his well-cut brown coat and fawn breeches mounted the several steps to the entrance of the boarding house in jaunty fashion. He knocked on the door and when it was opened removed his brown tophat to bow to the young slavey and make enquiries from her.

 

The girl stared at him and then abruptly vanished to be replaced by a middle-aged woman of pleasant visage, her graying hair parted in the middle. She wore a dark dress and a white apron over it. She too listened and smiled and Fanny could tell all would be well. David was coming to some suitable arrangement with the lodging house proprietor. She hoped the place would be suitably inexpensive as they had only a limited amount of money to cover their expenses until they opened in the play.

 

David returned in a good mood and told them Through the open door of the carriage, “All is well! We have a room and board at an excellent fee. And she is sending out the handyman to help us in with our things.”

 

“Good!” Adam Burns said. And he helped Fanny out and told them again, “I shall watch for your play in the newspapers.”

 

David told him, “We are most grateful to you, sir. And if you will give us your card I shall consider it an honor to send you tickets for our opening.”

BOOK: Beloved Scoundrel
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