“I have never been so humiliated, Reginald. How could you have deceived me and made secret plans with that American?” Lady Farrington’s eyes burned with reproach.
The drawing-room fire crackled as Lord Farrington gathered his thoughts. The business venture proposed by Charlie Allbright was their only hope. With the wealthy American now travelling on the Continent, there had seemed plenty of time to break the news to Julia that he would be sailing to America with Charlie just after the wedding.
Such bad luck, the man divulging their plan in a letter to Thea, and the girl mentioning it at supper!
“I had planned to talk to you about it, Julia. And need I remind you of my own humiliation at seeing your photograph in the newspaper?”
“That was part of an important cause, unlike your pleasure jaunt!”
“The trip is hardly that.”
“What do you mean?”
“It has to do with an investment. It’s rather complicated to explain.”
“Are you are saying that I am not intelligent enough to understand your business matters? It is clear that women have no recourse but to take action! ‘Deeds, not words’ are our only hope.”
“If you are planning deeds, then I certainly cannot trust you to stay out of trouble. You and Florence must come with me to America. We can only hope that, in time, the public will forget the incident.”
“But your plans are to leave directly after the wedding. You cannot expect us to be ready to travel by then!”
“Then I shall cancel my ticket and travel later with you. But I must go on to California immediately after we arrive in New York. Allbright will see to it that you are looked after.”
“Reginald, we cannot stay there without you! Did you say California? There are animals roaming there, and heathens with feathers on their heads!”
“Come now, Julia.” He tried to soothe her. “I will be going to San Francisco, a city of growing prosperity and culture. I cannot afford to house you and Florence in New York, but surely you will be comfortable in Charlie’s mansion, with the extraordinary amenities he has boasted about.”
“But presumably you are going to make a good deal of money from this venture. Why can you not afford our accommodation?”
“The fact is, my dear, our finances are not as healthy as I would wish. But Allbright has told me that a new railroad is to be built in California!” His eyes grew bright with hope. “It’s an exciting project. The track will run from San Francisco to a resort called Santa Cruz, with building development along the route. The American investors are among the wealthiest in the country.”
“What about Thea’s money? Will that not solve everything?”
“We cannot count on her pouring it into the estate.”
They looked at one another, each lost in private thoughts. Julia knew she’d spent lavishly and had enjoyed a life free of worries, apart from those of Florence’s future, Bunny’s happiness and, more recently, her own boredom. Her activities in the cause of women’s rights had felt exciting. Could she bear to give them up, just when she was beginning to feel such a surge of purpose? On the other hand, she loved dear Reggie. He needed her to support him, and not to stand in the way of his plans.
“How long will we be away?” she asked.
“It’s difficult to say. The investment may take some time.”
He sighed. If only the Farrington fortune hadn’t dwindled and he could give Julia everything she wanted. But did he know what that was? It seemed she was no longer the woman he’d married.
Then he saw her face brighten.
“We must arrive in time to be seen in New York before the Season begins in Newport,” she mused. “Doesn’t Allbright own a residence there as well? Yes, that marble monstrosity he talked about! I hope the New York circle knows that the King visited here. Oh, Reggie, it’s all going to be rather fun! Florence has every chance of meeting a millionaire. Everything is going to be all right, after all!”
She looked into his eyes, a dazzling smile lighting up her face, and he felt his heart turn over. Perhaps his wife hadn’t changed so much.
“Yes, darling, it will be,” he said, though he wasn’t sure at all. “I’m glad that you’ll be coming with me.” In his heart, he knew that much was true.
“Emily and Hester will share a cabin, of course. It mustn’t be too far from Florence’s and mine, so that they can attend to us.”
“My dear, we cannot afford to take Emily and Hester. Nor will I be taking a valet. There are shipboard maids who can attend to you, and Allbright’s servants will receive you when we arrive.”
“Shipboard chambermaids? No proper lady travels without her maid! Besides, what will Hester and Emily do here in our absence? We cannot simply dismiss them!”
“Continuing to pay them will be less expensive than taking them along. They can be kept busy. Speak to Mrs Wiggan.”
Julia opened her mouth to protest that the cook was unlikely to welcome such a notion, but just then there was a knock on the door.
“Mama? Papa? Whatever is happening? Thea is insisting that she hold a costume ball, and she wants Bunny to be Louis the Fourteenth. I’ve never liked fancy dress. It all sounds dreadful!”
Lord Farrington’s mouth had begun to twitch uncontrollably at the thought of his hapless son suffering inside a wig and hose, and as he caught his wife’s eye she, too, was stifling a chuckle.
“Come in, Florence,” he called. “We have something to tell you.”