“You have to return to San Francisco? But, Reginald, you’ve only just come back!”
“Darling, I won’t be leaving straight away. We shall have Christmas together. I just have to tie up some loose ends with the railway project.”
Lady Farrington’s face fell and he changed tack.
“Tell me your news. I gather you and Florence have made quite an impression!”
“I suppose so. To be honest it’s Emily who has caused the stir. Florence’s wardrobe has been much admired and a number of ladies have made enquiries about her designing gowns for them.”
Lord Farrington gazed out of the window to the busy street, his mind elsewhere, and she let out a puff of exasperation.
“The fact is, Reginald, Florence has met scores of American men, but she doesn’t like them any more than I do!”
“But surely you’ve been enjoying yourself. And I hear that you might be invited to Alice Roosevelt’s wedding! Now, how many of your friends could boast of that?”
“The President’s daughter is getting married in February. Surely we’ll be home by then?” Her voice caught, and he tenderly guided her into a chair.
“Charlie is happy for you and Florence to stay on, but if you prefer to return after Christmas, it can be arranged. I will sail later when my work is finished.”
“When will that be?”
“I’m not certain,” he admitted, “but we stand to do very well out of it. If you could see what is going on in the west! The men who are backing this new railroad are full of optimism for the future. People have become millionaires through trans-continental railroad development, like Allbright. If they can make it big, then so can the local investors I’ve been meeting. They’re doing the same thing on a smaller scale. It’s thrilling to be part of it.”
“What if it doesn’t succeed?”
“My dear, the investment has double opportunity for profit, with the development that’s being planned along the route. The new railroad will take people from San Francisco straight down the coast in half the time it takes going the long way round on the Southern Pacific.”
“It’s strange to think of our money being invested so far away from home.”
“Far away is not what it used to be. Never have we been able to travel long distances in such a short time. The world is changing very quickly.”
He pulled her to her feet, and kissed her.
“Now, come along. Our host is eager to tell us about the Christmas tree due to be delivered tomorrow.” Lord Farrington assumed Charlie’s accent. “Reg, I can’t abide a spindly tree. Thirty foot high, I told them, right up to those cherubs flying on my ceiling.”
He gesticulated wildly, and with a sweep of his arm a stack of books skidded off a table, along with some papers that fluttered to his feet.
As he stooped to pick them up, a gasp escaped from Lady Farrington’s throat as she attempted to retrieve them. But it was too late.
“What the devil?”
Lord Farrington turned the papers over. One was a note to his wife from Hester, the other a letter that the maid had enclosed. It was from Cristobel Pankhurst, written just after her release from Strangeways Prison.
Lady Farrington gripped the side of the table. As her husband’s face crumpled in disappointment, she knew that her worst fear had come to pass.
He looked up, his eyes dark with pain.
“You have deceived me again,” he said softly.