Authors: Meagan McKinney
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Historical, #Suspense
Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
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New York, New York 10103
Copyright © 1992 by Ruth Goodman
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CLS 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
To all the nieces and nephews:
Jewel, Jessie, Callie, Anna Grace, Sam and Jack,
And to Maggie Caruso and
We'll see you in heaven, dear friends.
First, I'd like to thank my cousins Anna and Morton
, who've always made Manhattan a more wonderful place than it already is.
also to my agent, Pamela Gray Ahearn, who's worked so hard on my behalf and had to work especially hard for this one. My appreciation to the institutions who keep the past alive: the New-York Historical Society, the Museum of the City of New York, the New York Public Library, the Newport Historical Society, Columbia University, and the A. B. Freeman School of Business Rare Books Library.
Special thanks to dear
for so generously sharing his vast knowledge; to Jill Barnett, who finds brilliance even when, alas, there is none; and to my editor,
Rowland, who showed faith and enthusiasm. I couldn't have done it without all of you.
Lastly, regarding all things Gaelic, thanks to the grand-nephews of the Irish writer Liam O'Flaherty: to Danny and Patrick O'Flaherty, owners of the best Irish pub this side of the Atlantic. I invite all my readers to have a pint and hear them play "Bridget O'Malley" at O'Flaherty's in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
Society was based on a sort of untitled but long-established social hierarchy, from which all random elements were rigorously excluded. It held many attractive people, good-looking, agreeable, well-dressed women and men, but as a society it seemed flat and arid, a Sahara without lions. . . .
Memoirs on New York Society
Of course it was raining.
From the filmy web of lace at the bedroom window, Alice Diana Van
looked down at Washington Square, made dark by looming nightfall and the storm. Below, rain pounded the streets, scouring the herringbone pattern of the paving stones; above, wind kicked at the skeletal trees in the square, causing the gaslights of the street behind them to blink through the shaking claws of their branches. Not a soul was about. Even the hack stand stood empty, all its cabs dispersed to carry pedestrians caught in the bad weather.
She stared out the wet windowpanes, hugging herself as if she were cold. The storm was an omen. But even believing this, she could not change her mind. She was going to the ball tonight.
A small wry smile touched her lips. The dream she'd had last night was an omen too. She hadn't had it in such a long time, she'd almost forgotten about it. Then, with tonight's worries on her mind, she must have conjured it from her deepest thoughts. The dream was always the same, and even now she found it hard to resist its images.
Succumbing to it, her green eyes warmed, and her face took on an ethereal expression, as if she were far away.
A heavy burst of rain pelted the window and thrust her thoughts back to reality. Disgusted with herself for day-dreaming at such a crucial hour, she turned from the window to head toward her lace-draped dressing table. But the opulence of her bedroom, especially in contrast with her reverie, almost repulsed her. The bedroom was beautiful, appointed with all the luxuries a wealthy young woman could wish for.
Just looking at the dressing table proved that.
It was kidney-shaped and so heavily festooned and skirted in costly French lace, it appeared upholstered. Its tufted pink velvet seat waited for her like a throne, but she was suddenly reluctant to go to it. Her surroundings were a shocking contrast to the simplicity and charm of those of her dream.
The white clapboard house was what she always dreamed about. And she had dreamed about that house last night. It was a house so spare and modest, most in her social circle would be embarrassed even to dream about such a dwelling, let alone wish to live there.
But wish it she did.
She loved that little white house perched atop the green grassy hill and gleaming beneath the blue sky. She had never been to such a house, but she thought about it so often, she could almost smell the scent of apple blossoms that surely drifted on the breeze from the orchard, and she could almost hear the snap of clean linens she pictured fluttering on the line behind the house. She loved the place, not so much for what it was but for what it contained.
She closed her eyes, willing herself to stop her thoughts. It wouldn't do to linger in reveries. They weren't destined to come true. Wishing for them would only cause unhappiness. She opened her eyes, intending once more to take her seat at her dressing table, but the wealth of her bedroom again seemed to overwhelm her.
She glanced around, hating the oppressively large cabbage roses on her wallpaper, the gaudy chintzes covering the furniture, the heavy rose velvets and silk fringes swathed across her Duncan Phyfe bed. It was all wrong. Though she'd grown up in this room, she knew it wasn't right for her any longer. Now she wanted other things, things like green hills, blue skies,
Her eyes darkened. He was always there in her dream, an ever-present spirit—dark, overpowering, unreachable. He took the form of a handsome man who leaned indolently against one of the whitewashed porch supports, arms crossed against his chest, staring at the landscape behind her. In her dream she would watch him from the bottom of the
unsure of who he was yet desperate to see the details of his face, obscured by the distance.
As had happened before, her desire to see this man overtook her, and she began to climb the hill, negotiating the grassy bank with difficulty in her satin gown. She clutched at her skirts to lift them free, but soon the heavy figured satin fell like water through her hands, and she lost her hold on it. With every step, her gown seemed to grow several inches longer, as if it were purposely trying to trip her, and it grew unimaginably heavy, as if lined with stones, not crepe. Soon the bustle at her back became like two great hands pulling her down the hill, keeping her from what she wanted most. The pearls at her neck weighed her down until she began drowning in this sea of satin and jewels.
In the end, unable to move, she could only look at the man on the hill, her arms outstretched, imploring him to save her from the quagmire of her wealth. But he didn't come down and rescue her. With a cry of anguish, she watched as he turned.
"Don't go," she
her voice desperate and low.
But he would never hear her.
"I need you," were the last pitiful words on her lips before the man disappeared into the simple white house, and she would violently awake, overwhelmed with bitter regret for something she would probably never have.
Her face became taut with emotion. The dream's end was like a nightmare. She hated to recall it. Unconsciously her hand went to the pearls at her neck, and she lifted them as if they were too heavy.
Startled, Alana turned from the window and found the person who had called her by the diminutive of her name. Her maid, Margaret, stood in the center of the room holding out her evening cape and long satin gloves.
"Miss Alana? Are you ready?" Margaret asked tentatively.
Alana stepped into the cape. "Has the carriage been ordered?"
"Yes, miss. I had Kevin do it. I figured the
keep his mouth shut better than
one's too quick to answer to your uncle."
Alana nodded, sensing the maid's fear by her heavier-than-usual brogue. "Good. Uncle Baldwin must never know I'm going to the Sheridan ball."
"Not as I've told him."
Alana smiled and looked at Margaret. "With the rain, I was sure this evening was doomed. But now I feel much more optimistic. If all goes well, the only way Uncle Baldwin will find out that I attended the Sheridan debut will be to read it in tomorrow's
New York Chronicle."
"We've done our best to keep quiet."
"I'm grateful for that, Margaret. You tell Kevin that too." Alana pressed the girl's hand and took the gloves from her. She was about to put them on, but the maid's expression gave her pause. Her heart quickened. "Is there something wrong?"
"Well, no, miss . . ." Margaret gave her a sheepish glance.
"What is it?"
"I promised them I'd tell you this, miss," she blurted out. "What I'm
' to say is just
I, well . . . we . . ."
"Me and Kevin and Katie and McDougal—well, we all want to thank you, miss."
"Thank me?" Alana looked puzzled.
"But whatever for?"
The maid's words seemed to tumble out before she could stop them. "We know why you're not supposed to go tonight, Miss Alana. We know it's on account of the Sheridan lass
' Irish. You're
' up for her, and we want to thank you.
Me and me
husband, Kevin, never left County Wexford until the year
last. So it means a lot to us, you going to
Margaret's words left Alana speechless. She stared at the maid, groping for a correct response. There were several things she could do and say, from what she probably should do—
chastise the servant
and remind her of her place—to what she wanted to do—hug the little maid and ask her to pray for her this night.
"You're welcome, Margaret," Alana finally whispered as she pulled on her gloves with embarrassed haste.
Equally embarrassed, Margaret gave her a swift, nervous curtsy and nearly ran out of the bedroom.
When Alana had decided to attend the Sheridan ball, she'd never thought about the fact that Mara Sheridan was Irish. She'd met die sixteen-year-old girl one afternoon last fall in Central Park and had liked her instantly. The first time she'd encountered Mara
the girl had stopped east of the Green in her elaborate basket-phaeton and publicly accused a hackney driver of maltreating his animal.
The invitation to her debut had arrived, and Alana viewed it as nothing more than another social obligation. She knew little about Miss Sheridan, but during their brief sojourn across the Mall, she'd found her genuinely guileless and sweet. Unlike the things she'd heard about her brother.
Everyone in New York talked about Trevor Sheridan. They said he was one of those rich, vulgar, self-made men so new to Manhattan who ran over everyone in their haste and greed for more dollars. There'd never been a kind word spoken about Mara Sheridan's brother in her circle, but of course, as Alana knew so well, the Knickerbocker set was hardly the place for charity.
Her lower lip twisted in derision. Oh no, exclusivity was the thing foremost on the minds of the Four Hundred, certainly not charity. She knew that better than anyone. Mrs. Astor kept exclusivity in front of her like a shield that would protect her from the "
." It was the final irony of the Van
' glorious existence that if Mrs. Astor were to find out their secret, New York's exalted social matriarch would find she'd embraced just what she'd been trying to run from—scandal.
Vulgar, sticky scandal.
But to protect herself, and mostly to protect those she loved, Alana played the game. In some ways it wasn't hard for her. With her Knickerbocker heritage that could be traced back to
Stuyvesant himself, Alice Diana Van
was the jewel in the crown of hyphenated New-York. But when that well-bred veneer was stripped away, Alana knew she was only a girl playing desperately at charades.
Against her will, her gaze slid over to the ruby-velvet-framed
daguerreotype of her sister that she kept next to her bed. She stared at it, an inexplicable panic running through her veins. She hated this game of exclusivity, hated it enough to run from it screaming. She lived a lie. She socialized with those who would be the first to ostracize her should they know the truth about her and her family.
Alana's gaze focused on the picture of her sister once more. To shield her sister, she played the wretched game. But even making that sacrifice, she found she could do it only to a point.
Her thoughts turned again to the Sheridan ball. She knew quite well that Mrs. Astor and the other Knickerbockers weren't blackballing tonight's affair simply because they disliked Mara Sheridan's brother—it was doubtful any of them had even met Trevor Sheridan. Alana certainly hadn't. The real reason was the despicable one Margaret had just stated. The
were Irish. Good enough, perhaps, to scrub the
or hand the master his trotters should he want to run them along Harlem Lane.
But not good enough to socialize with.
Alana stared at her reflection in the mirror. The yellow satin
gown was just right to attend a young girl's debut. The strings of pearls roped around her neck were costly yet restrained. Mrs. Astor would be proud of how she looked tonight.
The matron had heard the rumor that Alana was going to attend the Sheridan ball, and at their last collision Mrs. Astor had made it clear she expected Alana to stay home this evening. Now all of society was holding its breath to see if Alana would defy her and attend the ball. Alana took one last glance in the mirror and smoothed the swag of jonquil satin around her hips. She would.
Her coffee-colored satin evening cape had slid off and now billowed at her feet. She picked it up and struggled in her tight sleeves to throw the garment over
, unwilling to inconvenience Margaret to return and help her.
Mrs. Astor wouldn't have cared. She would have called the maid back without hesitation, but after Margaret's painful confession Alana couldn't bear to embarrass her further this evening.
Suddenly there was a loud pounding on her door. Before she could take another breath, the voice of her uncle shouted behind the locked door. "Alana! Open up! I know what you're doing, and I won't have it!"
Terror seized her. She froze. The voluminous cape fell once more to the carpet. Her uncle's pounding echoed that of her heart. Like a convict facing the gallows, she steeled herself for the worst. Didier had somehow gotten wind of her rebellion, and now he thought he could crush it.