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Authors: Daisy Goodwin

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BOOK: The American Heiress
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The Duke pushed his plate away with a hint of impatience and turned to Mrs Cash.

‘You must forgive Father Oliver’s enthusiasm, Mrs Cash. He is very attached to his subject.’

‘Oh, I understand. We have a great respect for family history where I come from, even if our stories don’t go back as far as yours.’ She lifted her chin a little as she said this and for the first time she met the Duke’s eyes. She stared at him coldly. He might feel ambivalent about his ancestry but she did not. She had not liked the way he had dismissed her proud family history as colonial pretension.

The Duke saw the annoyance in her face and smiled at her, a charming smile that made him look much younger.

‘My father used to call himself a link in the chain. I suppose we all have our chains, Mrs Cash.’

Mrs Cash gave a dignified little nod. ‘Yes indeed, Duke. And now if you will excuse me, I must go and see Cora.’ She rose and the men got to their feet. The Duke walked over to the door and held it open for her.

‘I hope Miss Cash will soon be able to join us downstairs. I am looking forward to meeting her properly.’ He sounded sincere and Mrs Cash gave him another nod. Perhaps he was, after all, interested in her daughter.

‘Cora is not the kind of girl to stay in bed for a moment longer than she has to. But I will decide when she is ready to get up.’ Having asserted her maternal rights, she swept past the Duke towards the great staircase.

On her way up to Cora’s room, Mrs Cash walked through a gallery lined with pictures of the Maltravers family. She stopped in front of the Second Duke, resplendent in blue satin with long dark curls falling over his lace collar. He was framed by a great damask curtain and behind that the ramparts of Lulworth. At his feet were two brown dogs lying on silk cushions with gold tassels. His face had a melancholy cast, his eyes were a little too moist and the lips a little too full for Mrs Cash’s taste, but the man in the picture had a look she knew well: the complete indifference of inherited position. It was something she saw rarely in New York but she recognised it instantly; it was the quality she herself most aspired to. She knew that unlike her hall of mirrors or the cedar-lined yacht, this was not something that could be acquired or even reproduced. It had to develop over time, like the patina on bronze. It was a coating that meant you had no doubts at all about your place in the world or concern about the world’s perception of you. Mrs Cash knew that she gave a good imitation of this indifference, but as she looked at the Second Duke she was aware that her celebrated composure did not have the authenticity of this long-dead aristocrat standing quietly but splendidly in the centre of his world. She wondered if Cora’s children would ever gaze at the world with such serene lack of interest.

She put out a finger and ran it over the gilded moulding of the picture frame, caressing its baroque curlicues.

It came up black with dust.

Chapter 7

Bows and Arrows

fourth the doctor said she was well enough to get up. The Duke hadn’t been to see her since that first day, and she had been forced to listen to her mother’s interminable accounts of his attentiveness as a host. But he had not been attentive to her. For an instant, Cora wondered if the Duke might actually prefer her mother’s company, but this thought was dispelled when she looked at herself in the cheval glass. She was wearing her prettiest evening gown, pale green silk with silver embroidery on the bodice. She had made Bertha lace her even more tightly than usual, so that her waist appeared to vanish beneath the confection of lace and silk above. The diamond drops in her ears sparkled against the warm brown of her hair. She pinched her cheeks and bit her lips to give her face some colour. The Duke, of course, had not seen her looking like this, at her best. It was possible that he had not quite taken in the extent to which she, Cora Cash, was as beautiful as she was rich.

‘What do you think, Bertha? Do I look well enough to go downstairs?’

Bertha did not even look up from the petticoat she was folding. ‘I think you know the answer to that question already, Miss Cora, judging by the way you’ve been gazing at yourself in that mirror.’

‘Yes, but sometimes I look at myself and all I see is the bump in my nose and the mole on my neck. I admit that tonight I can see other things as well but if I can see things so differently, then maybe other people do too.’

‘I think the other people will think you look just fine, Miss Cora. No one is going to be looking at your bump.’ Bertha straightened the folds of the petticoat with a snap.

‘So you can see it? The bump? You know, if it wasn’t there, I would have a perfect classical profile. I wish I could just shave it off. Mother has a friend who had paraffin wax injected into the bridge of her nose to make it perfectly straight. Perhaps I should do that. It’s awful to think that I could be really beautiful if it weren’t for that one little thing.’

‘Don’t forget the mole on your neck, Miss Cora, and that scar on your knee you got falling off your bicycle.’

‘Oh, but no one can see the scar on my knee!’

Bertha was now threading a satin ribbon through the eyelet edging of a cambric chemise. She looked up at Cora for a moment with a gaze so steady that Cora was forced to laugh, even if it was a little uncertainly. They both knew how she had come by that scar. Teddy Van Der Leyden had been teaching her to ride a bicycle. He had been running along beside her, steadying the saddle, and then he had let go. She hadn’t noticed at first and had sailed along freely, but then she had looked around, expecting to find him. Realising that she was cycling unaided, she had promptly fallen off, skinning her knee. She had cried then, more from the humiliation than the pain. Teddy had laughed at her tears, which had made them come even faster. Finally he had taken pity on her and had whispered into her ear, ‘Get back on the bike now, Cora. You can do it. Don’t you want to be free?’ And he had given her his handkerchief to bind up her knee and had helped her up as, still trembling, she got back on her machine and slowly wobbled off. She had been scared at first but then suddenly it all came together and she pedalled faster, feeling the breeze lifting her hair and drying her tears. Teddy had been right, she did feel free. When she rode out she had to be accompanied by a groom but there were no rules about bicycles – now she could simply pedal away. She realised that Teddy had seen and understood this and she had liked the feeling of being noticed.

Cora shivered impatiently. ‘I know you think I am being ridiculous but it would be awful to think I was beautiful if I really wasn’t. I would be no better than those dreadful English girls who think they are so fetching when really they look like simpering carthorses with their flaring nostrils and their bulging eyes.’

‘And they ain’t as rich as you neither, Miss Cora,’ Bertha said.

‘Then why hasn’t the Duke been to see me for three whole days? He must know that I have been bored to tears up here. Even Mother has hardly been to see me. Out of sight, out of mind.’

‘I’m thinking that the Madam seems a lot like her old self since we’ve been here. She ain’t bored to tears. She was wearing that diamond necklace with the sapphire drops the master gave her. I ain’t seen her wearing that since—’

Cora held up her hand. She hated to have that night mentioned. Especially now. That evening in Newport had started so well, she and Teddy had come so close to an understanding – and then it had all changed from hope to disaster in a second. Even now when Bertha accidentally singed her fringe with the curling tongs, she would feel bile rising up into her throat as she remembered the terrible stench of her mother’s burning hair. If it hadn’t been for Teddy, she thought, her mother could have died.

She remembered how when the bandages were removed, Mrs Cash had asked for a mirror. Cora had brought her the tortoiseshell-backed hand mirror that had once belonged to Marie Antoinette. Her hand had trembled as she handed it over, she didn’t want to see her mother’s reaction to her ravaged face, but Mrs Cash had not flinched when she saw what the flames had done. Mrs Cash had looked at this unfamiliar countenance with the same glacial indifference as she might regard one of her husband’s operatic ‘enthusiasms’. Apart from the careful dressing of tulle and net she employed to disguise the livid side of her face, Mrs Cash made no concessions to her misfortune and such was the control she had over herself and others that when strangers met Mrs Cash, it was her eyes that held them, not the mystery behind the veil. Later they might wonder and make discreet inquiries, to which they received whispered replies: ‘Some kind of accident at her daughter’s coming-out ball, her head a ball of flame, Cash’s comet, the New York wags are calling it. Teddy Van Der Leyden is the only reason she wasn’t fried to a crisp.’ A sad story but no one who had encountered the adamantine surface of Mrs Cash’s composure would have had the temerity to feel for her anything resembling pity.

Her mother had never mentioned the scene she had witnessed on the terrace before her dress had caught fire, and Cora saw no reason to bring it up. It was possible that the shock of the conflagration had affected Mrs Cash’s recall of the minutes preceding the accident, possible but not likely; Cora suspected that her mother remembered every detail but had chosen to put her memories aside as long as it suited her to do so. It was wrong that Teddy’s part in saving her life had also been put to one side, but Cora could only feel relief that her mother had decided not to blame her. It was hard enough to face the possibility that it had been her fault. She could not help feeling that her kissing Teddy had been the spark that had started her mother’s blaze.

The dinner gong sounded and Cora allowed herself one more glance in the mirror. Perhaps the bump wasn’t so very prominent on her left side if she pulled the curls of her fringe down a little. Was the green silk really appropriate, or was it just a little too frivolous? Perhaps she should change into something more interesting. Something that suggested that she could be fascinating as well as decorative. The blue velvet with the square neckline that Teddy had once said made her look like a Renaissance duchess, Isabella Gonzaga. But did she want to look like a duchess?

The blue or the green? The Old World or the New? Cora didn’t know. A week ago she could have made the decision without a qualm but now…She turned to Bertha in appeal, but the maid was standing by the door.

‘All right, I’m coming. Don’t look so cross, I’m the one who is going to be late, not you.’

‘And when do you think I get my dinner, Miss Cora? You may not have worked up an appetite lying in that bed, but I’m famished. The sooner you’re downstairs sparkling at the Duke, the sooner I can eat.’

Cora suspected that English servants would not talk to their mistresses so frankly; indeed, Mrs Cash would have been horrified if she had heard the exchange, but that was precisely why Cora put up with her maid’s tartness.

As she walked down the wide steps, the train of green silk and lace carefully looped over her left hand, she found the house both grander and more intimate than she had imagined. She passed any number of ducal portraits on the stairs but she stopped when she saw an arrangement of small detailed oils of grey lurcherlike dogs, clearly beloved pets. Beneath each canvas was the name, date and motto of the animal. ‘Campion’ in the lower left-hand corner had died only three months previously. She wondered if the animal described as ‘
semper fidelis
’ had belonged to the Duke. She hoped her mother had not seen them; Cora could imagine only too well how much she would enjoy the notion of dynastic pets.

At the end of the staircase lay two double-height intricately carved oak doors flanked by a pair of perfectly matched footmen who flung them open as Cora approached. As an American heiress, Cora had grown up under high ceilings but even so she could not help but be impressed by the scale of the vaulted gallery, running the whole length of the south front. Cora could see the Duke and other guests standing by the carved chimney piece in the middle of the room at least forty feet away. The Duke was in the middle of a story when Cora walked into the room and as all the listeners were straining to catch every word that he delivered in his low voice, no one looked round. Cora paused. Normally she would feel no qualms about joining a group in a strange house. Normally she would stride into the throng, her hand outstretched, her bright American charm at full tilt. But something about the way the Duke commanded the attention of his half-dozen listeners, including Cora’s mother, made her hesitate. Cora could not hear what he was saying but she could tell that this was not just polite attention on the part of the listeners, the Duke held his little audience in thrall. A moment later, he reached a hiatus in his story, looked up and caught sight of Cora. He raised an eyebrow, and then resumed his tale. She saw him lift his arm and swing it down suddenly, and she heard the word ‘chukka’ – he was talking about polo apparently. But why was he ignoring her?

Cora stood like a pistachio ice melting in her mint frills and Brussels lace. She had spent the last three days imagining the moment when she would reveal herself in her full splendour to the Duke. She was expecting that look in his eyes that she had seen so many times before in other people, the look that meant they were not seeing her but all that she represented, the marble palaces, the yachts, the gilded hummingbirds. She could not blame them for this, for she was all these things. Would she be Cora Cash if she wasn’t dressed by Worth, and surrounded by luxury? Of course she was as pretty and amusing as any of her contemporaries, but Cora knew that it was her money that produced that little pocket of hush which preceded her whenever she walked into a strange room. It was her money that triggered all those sideways covert glances, the conversations that faltered when she approached. No one was unaffected by the money – even Teddy who did not want it had let it push him away.

BOOK: The American Heiress
4.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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