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Authors: Daisy Goodwin

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BOOK: The American Heiress
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‘Can you hear me?’

Was is it a real voice, or just part of the jangle in her head?

‘Are you hurt? Can I be of assistance?’

Cora tried to find the voice, and there was something leaning over her – a face, she thought, not the fox man, someone different. His eyes were looking at her, looking for something, she thought suddenly, but then he spoke again.

‘Can you hear me? You have fallen from your horse. Can you move your limbs?’

My limbs, thought Cora, in limbo. I am in limbo, always in limbo. She smiled and the man, who she saw now was a young man, smiled back. It was not an easy smile, but a hard-won smile of pure relief.

‘Oh, thank God, you are alive. I thought for one minute when I saw you that you were…Here, let me help you.’ He put his arm under Cora’s back and helped her to sit.

‘But this,’ she said, ‘is not my country. I shouldn’t be here. I am an American girl.’ She didn’t know why exactly but for some reason it was very important to say that now. There was something she knew that she did not want to be taken for. The young man nodded his head in acknowledgement.

‘No indeed, this is my country. This is my wood, my land. My family have lived here for seven hundred years. But you are most welcome, Miss…?’

‘Cash. I am Cora Cash. I am very rich. I have a flour fortune, not flower you can smell but flour you make bread with. Bread, you know, is the staff of life. Would you like to kiss me? Most men want to, but I am just too rich.’ And then she felt the darkness coming again, and before the young man could answer, she fainted into his arms.

Chapter 4

Hot Water

saw a wooden angel looking at her with vacant eyes. She was in a bed, a bed with a roof and curtains. But she awoke clear-if sore-headed. She was Cora Cash, she had fallen off her horse and now she was where? And wearing what? She gave a little scream of dismay and suddenly there was a flurry of movement and heads male and female bending over her.

‘Miss Cash – you are Miss Cash, I think,’ said a voice she recognised. It was the man in the wood. Something had happened there. But what? There were things there she could almost feel, sounds she could almost hear, shapes she could almost distinguish but they lay behind a veil she couldn’t penetrate. This was irritating, there was something important there, if only she could remember. Like her mother, Cora had no patience for obstacles.

‘Miss Cash from America I believe,’ said the voice again with a suggestion of meaning that Cora found vaguely troubling. This man with dark hair and clear brown eyes seemed very wellinformed, and why was he smiling?

‘I found you lying on the ground in Paradise Wood. I carried you back here. I’ve called the doctor.’

‘But how do you know my name?’ Cora said.

‘Don’t you remember our conversation?’ The man was teasing her, but why?

‘No, I don’t remember anything since riding out this morning – well, nothing that makes sense anyway. I remember your face but that’s all. How did I fall? Is Lincoln all right?’

‘You mean the fine American horse? He is in the stables where his Republican opinions are causing my groom much anguish,’ the man said.

‘And how long have I been here? What about Mother, does she know where I am? She will be furious. I must go back.’ Cora tried to sit up, but the movement made her feel nauseous, she could feel hot bile flooding into her mouth. To vomit in front of this strange Englishman would be unbearable. She bit her lip.

‘My dear Miss Cash, I’m afraid you must stay here until the doctor arrives. Head injuries can be treacherous. Perhaps you would like to write to your mother.’ The man turned to the woman beside him; Cora guessed that she was some kind of servant.

‘Perhaps you could get some writing paper for Miss Cash, Mrs Softley.’

The housekeeper left in a rustle of bombazine.

‘You know my name, but I don’t know yours.’

The man smiled. ‘My friends call me Ivo.’

Cora sensed that he was holding something back. She felt annoyed. Why was nothing in this country straightforward? She felt as if she was being forced to play a game where everybody knew the rules but her. She decided to attack.

‘Why do all you Englishmen have names that sound like patent medicines? Ivo and Odo and Hugo. Bromides and bath salts, every one of them.’ She waved her hand dismissively.

The man made her a little bow. ‘I can only apologise, Miss Cash, on behalf of my compatriots. Men in my family have been called Ivo for many hundreds of years, but perhaps the moment has come to move with the times. Would you like to call me Maltravers? It hasn’t been my name for very long, but I suppose I must get used to it, and I don’t think it has any medicinal properties.’

Cora looked at him in bewilderment. How many names did the man have?

His voice was not the strangulated roar that she had begun to think was handed out to all upper-class Englishmen at birth. It was very low and he spoke quietly so that the listener had to lean forward to catch every word. Cora realised that this man must be important, not many men could mutter and be completely confident that every word would be listened for and understood. She felt awkward. Did this man know who she was, that she was not just any American girl? She came back at him with as much dignity as she could muster.

‘You are laughing at me for daring to question perfectly ridiculous things about your country that you take as quite normal. You do what you do not because it is the best way but because that is the way you have always done it. Why, in the house where I am staying, there are ten housemaids whose job it is to carry hot water up long staircases and endless corridors every morning so that a guest can take a bath in front of the fire. When I asked Lord Bridport why he didn’t have bathrooms like we do in the United States, he said they were vulgar. Vulgar! To wash. No wonder all the women here look so grey and dingy. I have seen girls, quite pretty girls, with dirty necks. At least where I come from we keep ourselves clean.’ She looked at her host defiantly. She might be confined to bed in a strange house but she would speak as she found.

Her host did not look offended by her outburst; in fact he was smiling.

‘I will have to take your word for that, Miss Cash. You were not at all clean when I found you in the forest and I regret that I have never visited your country. I am afraid you will be equally disappointed with the washing arrangements here. I have no moral objections to bathrooms, quite the contrary, I only object to their cost. But I can assure you that I wash very thoroughly. Perhaps you would care to inspect my neck?’ He leant forward and proffered his neck to Cora as if to the scaffold. It was indeed clean and though the dark curls were longer than would have been acceptable in America, Maltravers did not smell, as so many Englishmen seemed to, of wet dog. No, he had another scent entirely. Cora couldn’t quite describe it. She felt an urge to push her fingers through his hair. Again she bit her lip.

‘Your neck is immaculate. I congratulate you.’ Cora tried to hang on to her indignation. She was definitely not going to be charmed.

‘But tell me, how many housemaids do you need to bring the hot water for the hip baths? How many steps do they have to climb? How long are the corridors they have to struggle down? Surely piped water would be more economical in the long run, not to mention kinder to the servants?’ She tried to sit up so that she could hear his answer clearly and in an instant he was behind her with another pillow.

‘Is that better? Excellent.’ He paused. ‘If we had running water, we wouldn’t need so many housemaids and that might upset them mightily, not to mention their families who rely on them to send them money.’

‘There are plenty of things for girls to do these days besides carry hot water and lay fires. They could teach or make hats or learn to use typewriting machines.’ Cora knew that her mother was always losing her maids to shops and offices. The wages were better and they could have all the admirers they liked.

‘Indeed they could, Miss Cash. But I suspect that most of them just want to earn a wage until they get married, and a big house like this is a very good place to find a husband.’

‘Yes, I’ve heard about the marriage market in the servants’ hall from Bertha.’

‘Bertha is your maid?’ The man’s tone was amused.

‘Yes, she came over with me from the States.’

‘And as an American girl, she has no objections to being in service?’

Cora almost laughed. Hadn’t she given Bertha three of her old dresses last month? How could Bertha be anything but happy.

She said in her most dignified tone, ‘Bertha, I assure you, is very grateful for the opportunity to work for me. I wonder if you can say that about any of your maids?’

Maltravers’ reply was lost as the housekeeper came in with a writing desk which she arranged on the bed in front of Cora. She had brought a quantity of thick cream paper. Cora picked up a sheet with a crest at the top and the single word Lulworth underneath. She had been in England long enough to understand that understatement was all. Lulworth was clearly an ‘important’ house and its owner must have some kind of title. But then why hadn’t he told her when he gave his name? The English were infuriating. Everything was designed to put an outsider at a disadvantage. If you had to ask, you didn’t belong.

The man walked to the end of the bed and looked down at her. ‘I shall leave you to write to your mother in peace. But before I go, satisfy my curiosity on one point. Why, if you find the English system so distasteful, are you here? I thought you Americans rather liked our quaint customs and antiquated ways, yet you don’t seem to find us charming at all.’

Cora looked at him. His tone was light and yet there was an edge to his voice. She was pleased that she had nettled him. He had the advantage, but still she had piqued him.

‘Oh, I would have thought that should be obvious. As an American heiress I have come here to buy the one thing I can’t get at home, a title. My mother would like a prince of the blood, but I think she would settle for a duke. Does that satisfy your curiosity?’

‘Perfectly, Miss Cash. I hope you will invite your mother to spend a few days here at Lulworth. I won’t hear of you leaving until the doctor has given you a clean bill of health. And I rather think your mother will like it here, despite our lack of bathrooms. You see, while I may not be a prince, I am the Ninth Duke of Wareham.’

Cora felt the bile rushing into her mouth again. She waved her hands in front of her face.

The Duke was all concern. ‘Mrs Softley, I think Miss Cash is feeling unwell.’

Cora managed to contain her nausea until the Duke had left the room.

Chapter 5

The Black Pearl

around her neck. By candlelight, in the foxed silver of the pier glass, the effects of the accident were almost unnoticeable; only the shiny tautness where the flesh had been burnt showed up in this forgiving light. For anyone sitting on Mrs Cash’s right side there would have been no reason to suspect there was anything wrong; it was only when she turned her head that the ravages of the fire were revealed. At least, thought Mrs Cash, her right profile had always been generally the more admired. She had been lucky, the flames had not actually reached her left eye, although the area around it had been singed. The scars as they formed had pulled the skin tight, so that in this half-light the damaged side of Mrs Cash’s face was a grotesque facsimile of youthfulness. She half closed her eyes and through the blur she could see the spectre of the girl she had been. She pulled at the hairpiece of curls she wore so that the tendrils covered the misshapen lump of flesh that had been her left ear. As she felt the waxy smoothness of the scarring, she flinched. The doctors had told her that she had been fortunate that her skin had healed so quickly, but she hated touching its smooth deadness, which she minded even more than the shooting pains she still felt. She straightened up and began to dust her face with powder.

There was a knock at the door and the butler came in with a letter on a silver salver.

‘This has just arrived for you, ma’am. From Lulworth.’

Mrs Cash had not heard of Lulworth but judging from the little pause the butler made before he pronounced the name, she guessed that it was a place of some significance. She took up the letter and recognised, to her surprise, her daughter’s loopy scrawl.

‘But this is from Cora. Why is she writing to me? I thought she was hunting?’

The butler bowed his head. Mrs Cash’s question was rhetorical, although as the letter was unsealed, every servant in the house could have given her an answer.

To the butler’s surprise Mrs Cash did not gasp or reach for the sal volatile when reading her daughter’s letter. Indeed, if the butler had been on Mrs Cash’s right, he might have seen the beginnings of a smile.

In the servants’ hall, Bertha was mending a lace nightgown that Cora had torn because she was too impatient to undo the buttons before pulling it over her head. It had been one of those nights when Cora had come upstairs from dinner noisy and truculent after an evening spent listening docilely to Lord Bridport’s views on crop rotation. Bertha hadn’t unlaced her fast enough and Cora, snatching the nightgown from her, had pulled it over her head, ripping the two-hundred-year-old Brussels lace that covered the bodice as she did so. Cora hadn’t even noticed the tear but Bertha, who looked forward to the day when the nightgown and the lace would be passed on to her, had felt the ripping cloth as a laceration. The lace had been made by nuns, the work so fine and exquisite that it was almost an act of worship. It was taking all her concentration to sew the jagged cobweb edges together seamlessly. She had been so absorbed in joining one filigree flower to its mate, marvelling at the intricacy of the net showing white against her brown fingers, that she had missed the entrance of the groom from Lulworth with the letter for Mrs Cash, but now she caught Cora’s name in the conversation between the housekeeper and the cook and she looked up from her sewing.

BOOK: The American Heiress
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