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The Last Princess
By Cynthia Freeman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1988 Cynthia Freeman
All rights reserved.
Not since Gloria Morgan's engagement to Reginald Vanderbilt had New York society seen such a frenzy of excitement as was aroused by the announcement of the impending nuptials of Lily Goodhue and Roger Humphreys. Although few events elicited more than a yawn from New York society, as soon as the embossed, cream-colored invitations were received, the ladies of the Four Hundred promptly beat a path to their favorite couturiers. It was to be the marriage of the decade, a match—if one were inclined to embrace God—made in heaven; the coming together of two distinguished families who came as close to being aristocracy as was possible in America.
On the evening of the engagement party, the limousines lined the sweeping, tree-lined driveway to the Goodhues' Long Island mansion. Lily stood alongside Roger and her parents in the vast marble-floored hall, greeting their guests. Even among that galaxy of bejeweled society, her beauty was dazzling. It went beyond the fact that her hair was the burnished red of an autumn sunset, or that her eyes were the color of the huge emerald she wore on her ring finger, or that the features of her heart-shaped face were sheer perfection. She had an air, an inner radiance that few who saw her that evening would ever forget. It even outshone the expensive pink Chanel dress her mother had ordered from Paris.
As they stood posing for pictures which would appear in the next day's New York Times and Herald Tribune, there could have been no doubt as to her parents' joy. Diminutive, southern-born Violet looked as youthful and lovely as the day when she had burst onto the New York social scene as the bride of the tall, handsome rubber magnate Charles Goodhue.
The guests moved into the house, which was decorated with extravagant urns of azaleas, roses, and lilacs arranged to exquisite perfection. Beyond the open French doors of the ballroom the terrace and grounds were softly lighted, and the fountains at the far end of the pavilion played under dim yellow lights. Blood-red rhododendrons lined the path down to Long Island Sound.
Just then the band struck up "Lily of the Valley" and Lily circled the room in Roger's arms. There seemed no question that she was in love. It was evidenced by the smile on her face and the lyrical note in her voice as she greeted her friends. Roger, too, appeared delighted. Despite his unmistakably Brahmin reserve, he seemed unable to take his eyes off Lily. Yet as the evening wore on, Lily knew she had to get away for a few minutes, to escape the hundreds of eyes, so many of which were jealously hoping to find some flaw in this perfect evening. As Roger turned to ask a cousin to dance, Lily slipped quietly from the room, ran across the terrace, down the broad stone stairs, and along the path toward the conservatory. The glass doors closed behind her, leaving her in a silent world of exotic blooms.
Idly she let her gaze wander to the glass ceiling. The dazzling sight of a million stars in the midnight-blue vastness suddenly made her wonder how she had come to this moment. If she was shocked to find herself the focus of this evening's party, she supposed, she would—literally—have to go back to the cradle to trace the roots of her sense of un-worth....CHAPTER 2
Lily had always felt herself to be an outsider in her own home. She had never really belonged and it seemed that she had been paying for the sin of her birth from the moment she had first seen the light of day. Was any of it her fault? That was something she had been trying to decide for almost twenty-one years.
Violet and Charles Goodhue had been childless for ten years of their marriage and had almost abandoned hope that they would have a child, an heir to the Goodhue fortune. It had been a dynasty hard won, a dynasty which had been established three generations before by ignorant Dutch immigrants, and by dint of fraud and corruption and ruthlessness it had flourished.
With the first generation's ill-gotten wealth, the second generation of Goodhues had bought respectability. At the same time, they saw that wealth quadrupled. Charles's grandfather, riding the crest of the new age of industry, had transformed a modest fortune into a staggering one in the rubber trade in the Amazon. The slaves who worked those South American fields were too far removed from the States to taint the Goodhues' ever luminous reputation.
So, by his day, Charles Goodhue felt confident that when the biographies were written, his antecedents would appear merely as swashbuckling cavaliers.
The roots of Violet's wealth were strikingly similar. She had come from a long line of rumrunners and slave owners. Her grandfather had made a small fortune into a great one during the War Between the States selling bootleg liquor to both sides. Afterward, when other former slave owners found themselves dispossessed, Henri DuPres had emerged on the scene the triumphant master of the greatest and richest plantation in Louisiana.
Despite their combined inherited fortunes, and Charles's sharp business acumen which continued to make those fortunes more vast, he and Violet seemed denied by heaven the very thing they so desired—a child.
The sore lack was unmitigated by any wealth or possession he could ever hope to attain. Adoption was socially unacceptable for their set, and the idea of having a child not of his blood was abhorrent to a man like Charles Goodhue. What he longed for most was his own heir. Violet had less desire than he, but she was chagrined to disappoint Charles in an area that mattered to him so. Yet her barrenness appeared to be fait accompli.
Then one morning in Baden-Baden, where they had gone to take the baths, Violet awoke with a strange nausea. Never having been ill, for all her diminutive, fragile build, Violet immediately sought the counsel of Herr Doktor Steinmetz, the resident physician at the watering place.
So when Dr. Steinmetz congratulated her with the news that she was to be a mother, she greeted it with speechless shock. Then, as the reality of it set in, she all but flew from the room. "Charles! Charles!" she cried out, entering their room. "We're going to have a son! The gift I've wanted to give you for so long."
Neither of them doubted for a moment that she would bear the son they so wanted. In early celebration, Charles treated her to a new ruby necklace and matching earrings which might have turned her neighbor, Alice Vanderbilt, ever so slightly green with envy if she had seen them.
From that moment on, Charles treated Violet with even more than his usual adoration. He catered to her every whim. She was, after all, thirty years old—well past the usual childbearing years.
He had the nursery remodeled in blue and had the vast dressing room adjacent to Violet's boudoir equipped for her confinement.
Faster than they had anticipated, that final day of miracles was upon them. The house was still but for the frantic efforts going on in Violet's transformed boudoir. The only sounds that could be heard were the excruciating screams emanating from Violet herself. She had never known pain before and she could scarcely tolerate it. There was nothing fragile about the sounds coming out of her just then.
When at last the baby came, she cried out with relieved joy: "I gave you your son, Charles"—all the while thinking, I will never, never, never go through this again.
Motherhood was a joy she could easily have dispensed with. If it had not been for her strongly felt obligation to provide Charles with an heir, she would have taken every precaution against becoming pregnant. Now that her duty was done, she'd have no more of it.
Never again would she endure the nausea, the ungainly bulk, and worst of all, the isolation. In her day it was not fitting for an expectant mother to show herself in public. Violet and her lovely gowns remained closeted for two full social seasons.
The past nine months had proved sheer agony. Violet had spent most of that time in bed, out of sheer spite, and now she vowed that she would never, never subject herself to this again.
The infant was taken from her immediately following the birth. Violet was only too glad to have the child removed from her. She lay among her satin and lace pillows waiting for Charles's delighted praise. But it was grave eyes he turned upon her.
"What's wrong, dear? Is the child all right?"
He nodded. "Yes."
"What then?" she asked, extending her hand for him to come closer.
He could hardly form the words. "We do not have a son."
"What do you mean?" she cried.
"I mean, Violet, that you have given birth to a girl."
Impossible—impossible! How could that have happened? It had to be a son. A son was all Charles wanted.
"I can't believe it!" she whispered.
Coldly he answered, "Believe it. It is a girl."
For the first time since their marriage, she heard censure in his voice, and she suddenly experienced an emotion quite foreign to her: overwhelming remorse.
Charles merely shook his head. "Yes, indeed, we have a girl and not even beautiful, like you, Violet. We have a redheaded, skinny little monster. I don't know where that flaming red hair could have come from. Not from my side of the family, certainly."
When the baby was placed in Violet's arms, she looked down at the child and began to weep. This was not the chubby precious son she had expected. The baby was scrawny and unattractive, and if Violet had dared, she would have given her away and forgotten the whole thing. Her capacity to love was very limited. Charles received what little affection she had to give and there was none left over for an infant of the wrong sex.
Both parents had been so unprepared for a girl that they had never considered any name but Charles Goodhue II. It wasn't until the day before the baptism that Violet was willing to make a decision. Having come from a long line of southern beauties, whose names had been inspired by the beauty of roses, pansies, and violets, she was hard-pressed to come up with one for this ugly baby girl.
Lily? She thought bitterly of the Biblical verse: "Remember the lilies of the field—they toil not, neither do they spin." Useless—like this child. So just before the infant lay in Violet's arms at the baptismal font to be anointed in the faith of that famous lineage of blooms, Lily Marie Goodhue was grudgingly given an identity in the world.
Watching from his pew, Charles could not refrain from staring enviously at his friend Henry Ford, as he stood with his young son at his side. How had he, Charles, offended God so much so as not to be allowed a son of his own? He felt his ancestors looking down at him with contempt. Without an heir, the fortune they had amassed had no meaning. Violet was so frail, he dared not let her risk another pregnancy; she had barely survived the trauma of this delivery. Much as he longed for a son, he couldn't face life without Violet. His love for her was the only thing on earth that exceeded his obsession for an heir.
Over the next few years, as Lily turned from infant to toddler to schoolgirl, she seldom saw her parents. She was enchanted by their elegance and glamour, but whenever she reached out to embrace them, they quickly withdrew, becoming remote, cold figures who never seemed to notice her existence. They spent their winters in the house on Fifth Avenue and traveled extensively through the continent while Lily was left on Long Island in the care of nursemaids and governesses, almost forgotten. In time she gave up her efforts to reach out to her parents, knowing from a very early age that any such attempts would be spurned. In spite of the incredible luxury of her Long Island home, she grew up with an overwhelming sense of deprivation.
It was impossible to mistake their indifference. She was unloved by her own parents, for which she felt a sense of shame, as if she was unworthy of their affection.
Had it not been for her cousin Randolph Goodhue, three years her senior, who was sent from Manhattan to visit from time to time, she would have had no friends at all. But even then, her sense of worthlessness increased when she was five and Violet, despite her vow never to have another child, unexpectedly became pregnant. Her memories of Lily's birth had faded and she was almost enthusiastic about the possibility of giving Charles a son. And this time, she swore, it would be a boy. She had just returned from a trip to Europe late in her sixth month when Lily first became aware of the change in her mother's figure.
"Mamma, why is your tummy so fat?" she asked that night at dinner.
Violet looked at her daughter reprovingly. "Children should be seen and not heard."
That night Lily asked Michelle, her French nursemaid, "Pourquoi est-ce que Maman est si grosse maintenant?"
"Parce que ta maman va te donner un frère, mon petit chou."
Lily squealed in excitement. "C'est vrai? Un bébé!"
She was ecstatic the day little Charles was born. He was so beautiful, like a little doll—her very own baby brother.
However, her joy was short-lived. She was chastened every time she tried to embrace him or make him smile. And as Charles began to walk and talk, she found herself standing silently by, watching, as her parents lavished love and affection on him. Seeing her mother and father play with Charles, Lily felt a sense of loss so strong, it was almost a physical pain. She decided the reason they never played with her was that she was so ugly. Everyone said so. She heard them whispering, even fat old Cook. And she would gaze into the mirror, comparing her thin childish form and unruly red hair, first with her mother's dainty perfection, and then with Charles's fat rosy limbs and curling dark hair, and be filled with self-loathing.
At night, she would cry into her pillow with unfulfilled longing. Michelle, fiercely loyal, would try to comfort her. "But you are beautiful, chérie—you are! And of course your parents love you."
"They don't love me!" Lily would sob. "I'm ugly. I wish I could die!" And sometimes her thoughts were darker still. If Charles would die, she would be all they had. Surely they would love her then. She knew such dreams were wicked, but no matter how she fought them, they came back, unbidden.
As little Charles grew, the children became a little closer. The Long Island house was a lonely place and even their affection for their son did not keep Violet and Charles from their extensive travels. Lily had almost overcome her resentment by the time she was eleven. She rather liked having someone to follow her around.
Then, one Indian summer day, glorious and warm, Lily rode her dappled mare into the field at the rear of the Long Island compound. Charles was on his fat little pony. It was a lazy, lovely afternoon as the sun filtered down through the trees. While the children rode, the elderly English governess gradually nodded off.
She was awakened by Lily's screams. "What is it?" she cried out, her heart pounding.
"It's Charles. He fell off the horse!" Lily screamed hysterically.
"The horse? You mean the pony!"
"No, no—I let him ride my horse for a minute, and he fell off!"
Tears pouring down her cheeks, she led the governess to where Charles lay on the ground. His face was covered with blood, and as the governess came closer, she saw with growing horror that his head was turned at an unnatural angle. Falling to her knees, she pressed her ear to his small chest, listening for a heartbeat. "Oh, dear Lord! He's dead!" she cried, grabbing his wrist and searching frantically for a pulse.
"You evil girl, you devil," she shouted at Lily. "How could you let Master Charles ride your big horse?" The woman knew that she had been at fault for dozing off. She dreaded the consequences. She would never be able to find another job. And all because of this wicked little red-haired monster!
Terrified by the insane look in the governess's eyes, Lily ran to her horse, leapt on, and galloped off into the nearby trees.
Blinded by tears, she almost didn't see the high stone wall looming up ahead, but she reined in just in time, slid from the saddle, and flung herself down in the high grass, weeping hysterically. She had committed the most horrendous crime imaginable in allowing Charles to ride her horse. It was no excuse that he had been begging her for weeks. His voice echoed in her ears, even as she covered them now with her hands. "Please let me ride Sugar, Lily. You have all the fun. It's not fair. I have to ride around on this slow old pony. Come on, please?"
Excerpted from The Last Princess by Cynthia Freeman. Copyright © 1988 Cynthia Freeman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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