Read The Dollar Prince's Wife Online
Authors: Paula Marshall
âAh, Cobie. I wonder if you would do me a kindness? You seem a little at a loose end tonight.'
He means that Violet isn't paying me too much attention tonight because she doesn't want to arouse the Prince's jealousy, but never mind.
âYes, Arthur, what can I do for you?'
Arthur answered him looking surprisingly coy for a fifty-year-old man. âIt's not very lively here tonight, is it? A group of us thought of looking for better entertainment. Thing is, could you take Susanna home for me? Shouldn't like to neglect her. I've told her that business calls me away, and that you'll look after her.'
Time to think on one's feet and quickly, too. The little entertainment would, of course, be at Madame Louise's and on this night of all nights would not be little at all! It was imperative that Arthur, the American Envoy, should not be caught in the police raid there, due to take place shortly after midnight.
Not only must Susanna never know what villainies her husband had been getting up to, but he also had to consider what the revelation that the American Envoy had been caught in the company of children at a notorious night
house would do in the way of scandalous damage to Anglo-American relations!
â'Fraid not,' he said, and his smile had never been more innocent. âI was coming along to ask you to make up a four at whist with myself, Van Deusen, and one of his friends, Bellenger Hodson, a crony of the President's who most particularly wants to meet you. Knowing my relationship to you, Van Deusen relied on me to arrange it tonight. Short notice, Arthur, but I know you won't let me down. Duty always comes first with you.'
He saw Arthur hesitate, and thought wryly, if he refuses, then, by God, I shall not hesitate to blackmail him, and threaten to tell Susanna the truth about his perversions if he doesn't do what I ask of him. He'll love me even less after thatâbut I can't tell him the truth about the raid, too risky.
âOh, very well.' Arthur was sulky. âI'll tell Gascoigne and the others that I'll have to give it a miss tonight. Duty and all that, must come first. I never thought I'd hear you using the word.'
âNever thought I'd use it myself.'
Cobie, having got his way, was cheerful. âYou do that, Arthur, and I'll tell Van Deusen and Hodson the rubber is on.' He couldn't help adding, âI promise you, you won't regret it!'
Mr Van Deusen stared at him and groaned when Cobie, having cornered him, hissed in his ear, âFor the friendship you bear me, Professor, agree to do what I ask, and tell Hodson to say nothing which would contradict the lies I've just served up to Winthrop.'
âOh, Jake, what dubious tricks are you up to now, that you need to ask me to play whist with a stuffed shirt and a redneck from the backwoods! You can have Hodson for
a partner, I refuse to sacrifice myself to your whims completely!'
Cobie's smile had never been sweeter. âYou'll regret that, Professor, but you're on. Be in the blue drawing room in ten minutes, and dodge the Prince while you're at it. I want nothing to stop me from well and truly cornering my worthy brother-in-law!'
The game was as boring as Mr Van Deusen had feared it would be, and Cobie kept his promise that he would regret refusing to have Bellenger Hodson as a partner. He and Hodson ran out consistent winners, with Arthur inwardly moaning that he had lost his fun in order to be fleeced by his brother-in-law and a hick from the sticks who had happened to make a large fortune with which he proposed to assist Arthur's party, and must therefore be kept happy.
About half-past one, the evening, which had been as dull as such grand affairs usually were, became less so. One of the Prince's bodyguard who had been on duty outside, came in and demanded to see his Royal masterâa matter of some urgency, he said.
A little later the whole company was abuzz. Hodson, who was finding whist small beer after poker, waved his cigar at his companions, and asked, âWhat's up, gents?'
Cobie, who knew perfectly well what was causing all the excitement, shook his head. âNo idea, Hodson. The Prince is ready to go, perhaps?'
Hodson, who was watching a small group of highly connected gentlemen talking excitedly together, corrected him. âOh, no, Grant, something is definitely up.'
He laid his cigar down, and called over to the group, his mid-west accent particularly strong, âSay, gents, what the hell's going on? Let us in on the secret, eh!'
Annoyance at being accosted by someone no one knew, was succeeded by the usual desire to spread bad news. Rainey came over to salute Cobie, Arthur Winthrop and Van Deusen, whom he knew, and to stare at Hodson, whom he didn't.
âHaven't you heard? The police raided Madame Louise'sâ¦establishment off the Haymarket not long ago. They netted several of Tum Tum's friends who were here earlier, a High Court judge, a leading actor, and what's worse, they found in the attics a number of small girls and boys being held prisonerâ¦'
He stopped, needing to say no more.
Arthur Winthrop's face was a picture. He looked across at Cobie, who was staring interestedly at the ceiling which depicted the young Iphigenia being sacrificed, with Jupiter hovering on a thunder cloud, about thirty feet above her, a lightning bolt in his hand. Quite suitable under the circumstances, he thought.
âA High Court judge?' Arthur asked dazedly. âWas that Gascoigne to whom I was speaking earlier?'
Rainey nodded. âHe was making up a party to go there, I do know. I refused. Madame's been too ripe for me lately.'
This wasn't the real reason, which was, as Cobie already knew, that Rainey could no longer afford Madame's prices.
âThank God you asked me to play this rubber with you,' said Arthur fervently to his half-brother-in-law. He had never liked him so much. Meantime Bellenger Hodson treated M'lord Rainsboroughâas he called himâand the rest to a pious sermon on the decadence of the aristocracy and judiciary in Britain while Mr Van Deusen looked across the table at Cobie. His friend now wore an expression so innocent that he could have stood in for Saint An
thony being tempted in a medieval painting, and resisting it nobly.
Arthur, still inwardly congratulating himself on his narrow escape, left the game to find others to exclaim with him about the exciting news.
âYou knew, you slimy devil, you knew,' the Professor hissed at Cobie in return for Cobie's hissing earlier. âHow the devil did
âI?' Cobie's expression grew even more saintly, if that were possible. âHow should I know of such a thing? I've spent the whole evening with you, quietly minding my own businessâ¦'
âOh, yes, and what about the evenings you've spent not minding your own business, but quietly minding other people's? You went out of your way to stop Winthrop from going to Madame's tonight. I know you did, he complained about it to me between rubbers. I hope he realises that he, and the President and Congress, owe you a debt of gratitude for saving them all from a nasty scandal. Who did you bribe, what did it cost youâand what's more, why did you do it?'
âReally, Hendrick, you credit me with more than I deserveâ¦'
âOh, no, Jake, never that. You deserve all and more that I credit you with. Who and what were you after? No, don't tell me, I don't want to know. Then I don't need to lie when the police come after you. They're not like ours at home, you know. They're not so corrupt here.'
âOh, Hendrick, how wrong you are. They're exactly like ours at home. Which isn't to say that I admit to anything. As to being after anyoneâ¦' He shrugged.
What he really wanted to know was whether Sir Ratcliffe had been caught in the net. If he had, it would save him
from pursuing the man further. He rather thought not. Such a tit-bit would have been round the company in no time.
Dinah, sitting in her corner, was aware that something had happened, something exciting, and certainly scandalous. But, of course, no one would tell her what it was. When she asked Violet why everyone was so up in the air, her sister replied dismissively, âNothing for little girls to know about. Fetch your cloak from the cloakroom and meet me in the hall. Kenilworth wants to go home.'
She was walking to the cloakroom when she came across Mr Van Deusen and Mr Grant talking together. Mr Van Deusen was laughing in an angry kind of way. There was nothing that she could do to avoid acknowledging them.
They saw her, and stopped their urgent discourseâhow did she know it was urgent? but she didâand they bowed to her, as one.
She couldn't help herself, the words flew out.
She said to Mr Van Deusen, ignoring Mr Grant who was looking at her rather keenlyâwas her petticoat showing?ââOh, Mr Van Deusen, pray tell me why is everyone in such a pother suddenlyâif you feel able to, that is. Has the Prince been taken ill?'
It was Mr Grant who answered her, as smoothly as though they had not parted such dreadful enemies. âWell, the news might have distressed him, but it is not that, Lady Dinah. I think that you are old enough to know that some distinguished personages were caught by the police inâwhat shall we say?âcompromising circumstances.'
Dinah was not so young and innocent that she didn't get Mr Grant's drift.
She answered him immediately, while trying to forget the last, dreadful, occasion on which he had spoken to her
for, if she were to allow herself to remember it, she could not have spoken to him at all.
Like Mr Van Deusen, she could not help noticing how singularly innocent Mr Grant looked tonight, like a saint in a fresco in a church. She didn't comment on that, of course, although she would have liked to have done.
Instead, she said, rather dismissively, âOh, Mr Grant, I'm happy to learn that you now consider me elderly enough not to have my reputation ruined by being told such a thing by a gentleman so much older than I am. You recently told me that appearances often deceiveâsomething which tonight's events seem to prove. They also confirm that you are, as usual, accurate in your judgementsâor, perhaps I ought to add, some of them.'
Mr Van Deusen laughed aloud. Mr Grant was more discreet, although his grin was a broad one.
He bowed again. âSo happy to learn, Lady Dinah, that you treasure every word I say so carefully. I wish that I could say the same of all my friends.'
Here was her opportunity, and Dinah took it. She bowed back at him, walked by him, and turned just before she entered the ante-room, to say, âYou are far from being my friend, Mr Grant, and I don't so much treasure your words as use them to make darts of my own.'
She might have guessed that nothing anyone could say to him would ever put him out of countenance.
He bowed again, put his hand on his heart, and said, â
, Lady Dinah. I can only suggest that you do what I always do, and sharpen your darts before you use them againânever waste anything being my motto.'
What could she do but ignore him, take her cloak from the maidservant, and bow again when she passed them.
Behind her, Mr Van Deusen said, almost beneath his
breath, âBy God, Cobie, my friend, that girl's a treasure. Now, if she only had the looks to match her brainsâ¦'
The stare Cobie gave him was a freezing one, and for once, it froze Van Deusen. âOh, but she will, Professor, she will. Just you wait and see.'
or a few days all London society found nothing else to talk about but the police raid on Madame Louise's night house and the big fishes who had been netted there. Oh, not openly, in front of the children as it were, but behind female hands and in the clubs where only men gathered.
Pearson smuggled in one of the low newspapers which Dinah was never allowed to see, and there she had read what was openly written and of which Mr Grant had told her, oh, so discreetly.
The Commissioner found himself explaining his actions to a small grey man who was a very important person indeed.
âOh, no,' he said earnestly, looking the man in the eye as candidly as he could. âNo, this is not a general move against all such houses. It was necessary because Madame and her people had become indiscreet. You wouldn't want a scandal, surely. A child escapedâthink of that! Think of what would have happened if it had become openly known. Besides, it keeps the others in order.'
Naturally he said nothing about dubious characters who
handed over a fortune as though it were marbles to be played with in the street.
The grey man said something in the order of, âI trust that you remembered my wish that if such action were necessary then a few discreet warningsâin certain quartersâmight have been in order.'
The Commissioner looked out of the window, and said smoothly, âI am sure that you understand that some warnings were givenâotherwise the scandal would have beenâ¦unsupportableâthe government might have fallenâ¦'
He let his voice trail off, smiling brightly at his interlocutorâ¦who looked away.
He didn't say that Sir Ratcliffe Heneage, that minor minister, and Madame's most faithful customer, had been one of the few who had come home to find a letter marked URGENT and PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL on his desk, and had opened it to find a characterless copperplate message inside for him.
âIt would be as well to avoid visiting a certain pleasant rendezvous this week. Discretion is the better part of valour.'
The coded message, previously agreed, had told Sir Ratcliffe all that he needed to know. He made himself particularly visible at all the places he had visited for the next few days, giving a little dinner party for a few highly placed friends on the night of the Harrendene dance and reception. He displayed suitable shock when the news broke, shaking his head and deploring the loose habits of those who should know better.
Downstairs, Walker and Bates were sweating over a
of Mr Horne. It was a French method of identifying a criminal by carefully recording all of his major
physical characteristics, which the Yard had recently begun to employ.
Walker had written it out on the morning after their second meeting. Told by the Commissioner to rattle his hocks and find the mysterious Mr Horne at the double, Walker was trying to improve it, racking his brains to remember anything significant.
Bates, called in to helpââSurely, you can remember something, Bates, which might give us a handle'âsaid slowly, smiting his forehead, âOf course, he was left-handed!'
Walker snarled at him, âNow, a week later, you tell me that! Are you sure, Bates, or are your wits wandering again?'
Eyes closed, Bates said slowly, âYes. He held me with his right hand and arm while he used the knife with his left hand. I knew there was something odd about him.'
âBeing left-handed isn't all that odd, Bates, but it does tell us somethingâwhich is a sight better than nothing.'
Walker tried to recall Mr Horne, and he, too, remembered that left hand snaking into his tattered coat to pull out a purse full of sovereigns. He realised, mournfully, that his own cupidity had been so great that he hadn't done his job properly.
Left-handed, he wrote, then, âHis hair, Bates? See anything of his hair?'
âSaw nothing of anything, guv, you know that.' Disrespectfully he added, âDidn't see much yourself, did you?'
âI saw a pair of bright blue eyesâwhich isn't much help, I know, seeing how many are blue-eyedâbut better than nothing, Bates, like him being left-handed, better than nothing.'
Cobie Grant, in the privacy of his room, juggling before a mirror, keeping three, then four, small balls in the air at once, a trick no one knew that he could performâother than Hendrick Van Deusen, that wasâcould have told Walker differently. His ambidexterity was something he rarely displayed publicly, other than to confuse on certain special occasions, tricking the authorities being one.
He had seen Dinah twice more in the fortnight since the raid and each time he had merely bowed in her direction. She had responded so coolly that her reply was almost the equivalent of a snub. What she didn't know was that âthe matter of Dinah Freville' was now in trainâ¦very much soâ¦
Earlier that week, Professor Louis Fabian, seated in his pleasant room in his lodgings at Balliol, a room which looked out over the Quad, had been told by the porter that he had an unexpected visitor, a man of whom he had never heard.
âA Mr Jacobus Grant, sir, says that he wishes to see you immediately on an urgent personal matter.'
Professor Fabian sighed. He had been looking forward to a pleasant morning examining a rare codex, and the last thing he needed was small talk with a stranger. He couldn't imagine what he could have to say on personal matters to a man of whom he had never heard.
Nevertheless, a certain curiosity piqued him, and he agreed to see Mr Grant, if only to find out what he wanted. Some useless heir, perhaps, who needed to be coached before being let loose among Oxford's dreaming spires. Professor Fabian was unique in being mordantly cynical about certain aspects of his position as one of the more learned dons at Oxford's most prestigious college.
The man who entered his pleasantly cluttered study,
where a fire burned in the grate even though this day in early May was not cold, was not at all what he expected. His classical learning had Professor Fabian asking himself whether Mr Jacobus Grant more resembled Antinous or Apollo, brought up to date and wearing clothes of the most exquisite cutâclothes which did nothing to hide the athletic perfection of his body. He appeared to be in his late twenties.
His voice was beautiful, too, as well as his manners. He thanked Professor Fabian for consenting to see him at such short notice, and refused a chair.
âFor what I have to say, sir, I prefer to stand,' he said coolly, which had Professor Fabian standing as well, but never mind.
For his part, Cobie thought that Professor Fabian was everything which he might have expected of Dinah's father. He was a handsome, middle-aged man who had once been a handsome young one. He had suspected that Dinah took after him, not the Frevilles: another insult on top of her birth, there to annoy them, and he had been right in his suspicion. Professor Fabian confirmed Cobie's belief that a little more time, plus some loving treatment, might result in Dinah becoming a rarer beauty than her sister.
He began without preamble.
âYou do not know me, sir, but I hope that I may remedy that situation shortly. Briefly and bluntly, I have come to ask you to give me permission to marry your daughter, Lady Dinah Freville. Before you reply, I ought perhaps to inform you that I am well able to support her. I am a citizen of the United States of America, my foster-father is Mr John Dilhorne of Dilhorne and Rutherfurd, one of my country's premier corporations. He is the brother of Sir Alan Dilhorne, of whom I am sure you have heardâhe has been
a member of the Cabinet for many years. My own fortune is greater than that of either of them.'
Louis Fabian said, taken aback for once, âWhy ask me, sir? I have no legal standing where Lady Dinah Freville is concerned,' and he leaned ever so faintly on the word Freville.
âOh,' Cobie said, almost carelessly, âI understand that you are her true father. I have no wish to approach either Lady Kenilworth, or her brother, who is her guardian, in the normal way, for they would each, for their own selfish reasons, refuse to allow me to marry her. If I were to propose to Lady Dinah as I ought, she, too, would refuse me. She dislikes me very much, for reasons which I will shortly explain. I wish to marry her because I need a wife, and because I respect her as a person and as an intellect, and because I believe that we could make one another happy.
âThat being so, I fear that I must resort to an underhand trick to win her. I am determined to do so for her sake as well as mine. Her position in her sister's household is intolerable, and anyone her sister is likely to arrange for her to marry will almost certainly not only be unsuitable, but likely to make her life even more grossly unhappy than it already is.
âI am sure that, as her father, you would not wish her to be doomed to the kind of misery to which she is at present condemned.'
He paused, and smiled his winning smile.
Professor Fabian said slowly, âYou have not mentioned the word love, sir. Do you love my daughter?'
Cobie raised his eyebrows after a fashion which Dinah would have recognised.
âLove, sir? What has that to do with marriage? You, of all people, should understand that. No, I respect your
daughter, I wish to rescue her, and would do my best to make her happy once we were married. If you agree, I will tell you what I propose to do. I hope that you are sufficient of a realist to understand why I am acting in this way. Coercion is not pretty, but is sometimes the only way to force the resolution of an intolerable situation.
âI am here because I need some moral support from a man whom my investigators inform me is not only of a towering intellect, but is known for his downright common senseâsomething rare in the academic world, as I am sure you are aware.'
Louis Fabian had rarely been so surprised by anything he had read or heard that he was deprived of speechâbut he was now. He was silent for some moments, looking out of the window at the view of the quadrangle across which two of his colleagues were walking, heads bent in earnest conversation, black gowns flying out behind them, before he answered his unusual visitor.
âYou intrigue me, sir. Either you are the most consummate scoundrel, or the most remarkable philanthropist, I have ever met. Certainly your pragmatism is great enough to astonish even myself! Pray continue. I thought that this was going to be yet another predictably dull morningâI see that I was mistaken!'
âOh, splendid, sir.' Cobie's smile was now warm, as well as winning. âI can see that we shall deal well togetherâparticularly if you accept me as a scoundrel! Now, allow me to tell you what I propose.'
âOnly after you have taken a chair, Mr Grant, and a glass of some rather good sherry. It is not every day that a man is asked for the hand in marriage of the daughter whom he may not acknowledgeâand after such an intriguing fashion, too.'
âWillingly, sir.' Cobie accepted both the offered chair and the sherry before beginning to unfold his plan of campaign to the sardonic man before him.
Louis Fabian was laughing when he had finished. âAnd you are sure that you can bring this off?'
âOh, absolutely, sir. Quite sure. The beauty of it is that everyone benefits in the end, particularly me.'
âYes, of course. Particularly you. And you guarantee to be kind to Dinah, whom I dearly love, and you are right to respect her. She wished to go to Somerville, but of course, they wouldn't allow any such thing. If you marry her, she still loses that, but she gains her freedom from the pack of themâwhich is all I care about.'
He put down his glass of sherry, leaned forward and said gravely, âI am human enough to wish you to succeed if only to pay them back for what they did to Charlotte and me nineteen years ago. The late Lord Rainsborough agreed to divorce her so that we might marry when he found that she was expecting my child. I was prepared to throw up my academic career, seek another, I had a little money, enough to keep us in modest comfort.
âHe tricked us. I left the Hall, as he asked, and then Rainsborough refused the divorce, and put poor Charlotte out to grass. I wanted her to leave him, live with me, but she said no, he had promised to ruin me if she came to me, and she couldn't have that on her conscience. I, God forgive me, let her persuade me to agree. It was not she and I who suffered, but poor Dinah who became the scapegoat for our sin.
âNow you say that you will rescue her, care for her, and do it in a fashion which humiliates them. Yes, I agree, and you will stay for lunch to allow me to become acquainted with my daughter's future husband.'
It had all gone better than Cobie had dared to have hoped, and now he could go back to London and win Dinah with her father's blessing.
After his early weeks in London, and then his stay at Moorings it was an understood thing in London society that Cobie Grant, whatever else, was an easy mark so far as playing cards was concerned.
In the week after he had met Louis Fabian and in doing so had found a new friend, he did particularly badly, both at the clubs where gambling took place, and in those Mayfair drawing rooms where the men retired to amuse themselves after their wives had gone to bed.
One person who did particularly well out of him was Gerald Rainsborough, although Sir Ratcliffe Heneage ran him a close second. So well did Rainey do that he thought that he might even be able to recoup the Freville family fortunes by fleecing the rich Yankee who seemed so happy to lose his money to him.
âLuck's a variable mistress,' Cobie moaned late one night, paying over his dues to Rainey and Sir Ratcliffe, âand the devil's in the cards for me these days.'
âCan't have it every way, Grant,' offered Rainey, kindly and a trifle patronisingly, âand your luck in other quarters has been astonishingly good, or so I understand.'
He winked meaningfully at Sir Ratcliffe who, having failed with Violet Kenilworth, was happy to see that the man who had not was paying for it in another fashion. He was given to saying, âGrant ought to remember that lucky at cards, unlucky in love, and vice versa. At the rate he's going, he'll make a rich man out of Rainey.'