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The Millionaire's Daughter
By Dorothy Eden
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1974 Dorothy Eden
All rights reserved.
On his way to the Academy of Music to see a performance of Faust (which he knew would bore him intolerably), Harry Spencer ordered his coachman to drive him uptown to the East Sixties. He had a sudden whim to pay another visit to his new house, just completed, and still unfurnished.
There would be nobody about. He could wander through the empty echoing rooms and permit himself the self-indulgence of a dream.
For tomorrow the acres of carpet and the furniture would begin to arrive and never again would this grand and beautiful house, the fulfillment of a long-cherished ambition, be empty and entirely his. After tomorrow it would be shared with servants, and after that again, a bride.
It was not too large a house. He had carefully avoided the ostentation of the Vanderbilts, with their twin mansions in the Fifties, and of other prominent New York families who still clung to the Twenties and Thirties. He had wanted something smaller and perfect. No passerby could fail to admire the portico with its slender pillars facing Central Park, the dignified façade rising only four floors and broken by beautifully wrought-iron balconies, in the style of a Venetian palace. The fortunate people who were admitted within the front door could exclaim in admiration at the yellow marble staircase, the dark paneling of the hall that was going to make such a suitable background for the pictures he intended acquiring, the suite of rooms, dining room, library and drawing room leading into the ballroom with its magnificent crystal chandeliers; the second-floor drawing room for his wife's use (he could see her there entertaining fashionable friends with hot chocolate in the mornings or reclining in a tea gown to welcome him home in the late afternoon); and the fifteen bedrooms on the upper floors, several of them complete with their own bathrooms.
Camberwell House, as he called it satirically, after the wretched suburb of London, England, from which his parents had come when he was a very small child, established him as an entrepreneur in the world of business, a shrewd man who had an instinct for what he called the day after tomorrow.
Today was not good enough. All those snobbish old families descended from the Dutch patroons might settle in enclaves downtown and think they were there forever. They were not. A rising population and what would inevitably become land hunger on an island the size of Manhattan would push building farther from the city center and higher in the air. Harry already had architects working on plans for department stores, office buildings and hotels that would rise seven or eight floors.
The day after tomorrow when Harry Spencer would be settled in Camberwell House with a wife and several children. And the shanties would have disappeared from the far end of Central Park, the park itself would be a well-kept vista of trees and gardens, and all of the Sixties, the Seventies and the Eighties would be handsome mansions for the rich.
So this was the last time his house would echo from emptiness. Harry gave a half laugh that was more of a sigh. He found he was a little sentimental, a little reluctant to part with the dream that had possessed him for twenty years.
But there would be other dreams. He would always have a new absorbing project in view. And, he had to remind himself, there was still the vital part of this project to be completed. He was dressed for the kill, so to speak, in his tails, his gleaming white waistcoat, a white gardenia in his lapel, his small pointed golden beard groomed and shining, his blue eyes keen and alert.
Billy, his coachman, was shivering in the freezing night air. The sidewalk was slippery with ice, and the horses skidded on the frozen street as Harry stepped into his smart landau and set off in the direction of the Academy. He had arranged to meet his lawyer and friend, Ephraim de Wynt, in the foyer. Ephraim was one of the few of that powerful elite, the first four hundred, who encouraged rising men and calmly ignored less than illustrious beginnings.
People said unkindly that he himself had an eye on the quick dollar. He did not form these friendships for the pleasure they gave him, although he was reputed to have a deep and fascinated admiration for what he called the God-given talent certain men had for making fortunes. They were the backbone of America. One must never underestimate their enormous influence, even if they hadn't learned the right words to say in society or had ignorant parents hidden away in slum areas because they were uneasy or unhappy living anywhere else.
Harry Spencer, although he had a mother still living in the Bowery, had risen a good deal above this category because he had, when he liked to use it, a natural social sense, as well as the sort of blunt, stocky good looks that appealed to a number of women. He was already a personality and would be a greater one. Ephraim was going to find it amusing introducing him to the most suitable young lady to be mistress of that grand new house on Fifth Avenue.
He had one young lady in mind already. Miss Mary Ellen van Leyden. She would provide all the class Harry lacked. She was also spirited and reasonably good-looking. A little older than desirable, in her mid-twenties, he fancied, but Harry at thirty-five was no youngster. The van Leydens were a family of impeccable background who lived in a larger, shabby house on Eighth Street that had been built by an ancestor who had made a fortune in the latter part of the eighteenth century. The house was now a period piece, a part of New York history. It was a pity that it was in such a ramshackle condition. The truth was that the once-proud van Leydens had, over three generations, produced too many ne'er-do-wells and were now abysmally poor. The present owner, Robert van Leyden IV, gambled, drank, and relied on a fading charm to get him out of awkward situations.
His wife had been a Boydell from Virginia, another family that had seen better days. There were aristocratic cousins somewhere in England, but Millicent Boydell, after her marriage to Robert van Leyden, found that she was never going to make the much-longed-for trip to Europe simply from lack of money. So in spite of her connections, she withered away in the old house on Eighth Street, only occasionally giving a modest dinner party, when extra servants were hired for the evening, and her husband inevitably got drunk. The two daughters, Mary Ellen and Louisa, remained unmarried, and the son, Boydell, who unfortunately had been born with a club-foot, seemed already to be following in his father's footsteps.
It was a great shame, a great waste, and there was only one thing to be done, if it were not too late. The girls must marry money, and Boydell must work harder or find himself an heiress who didn't mind a slight physical deformity.
Ephraim, although he enjoyed the intimacy of a family friend, had no great liking for Millicent van Leyden, with her long nose and her air of superiority and fading elegance, and he despised her dissolute husband. But he was not, after all, concerned for the fortunes of the van Leydens, only for the satisfactory arrangement of his client's domestic life.
Given an entrée into society, Harry Spencer could double or triple his fortune. And that was a matter that affected Ephraim personally. He frankly enjoyed the company, and the business, of the extremely rich.
"Which one?" asked Harry, scanning the boxes. The ladies, with their fans and feathers, looked like a horticultural display formally arranged around the semicircular auditorium.
"The third box from the left with three ladies. The one in the middle is the mother. I see that they are unescorted. I know Robert van Leyden dislikes the opera, and I don't think Boydell cares for it either."
"So much the better. The ladies will be glad of some male company."
"You're right, my dear fellow. Shall we go?"
"Wait a minute. Which of the young ladies had you in mind?"
"The taller one on the right. She has her mother's long nose, but she can be as stately as a duchess when she chooses. I can imagine her coming down that fine staircase of yours." Ephraim looked at his companion. "You toid me you hadn't mere prettiness as a standard."
Harry thought of the qualities he wanted in his wife and knew that good looks would have been a bonus he could hardly have expected. If the two Misses van Leyden had been raving beauties, they would have been snapped up long ago, penniless or not. That stood to reason. No, he was content to settle for quality, breeding, social eminence. After all, a man could go on having the occasional discreet affair. Not even the most innocent and protected of young women would imagine that he could have reached his middle thirties and not had his share of amorous adventures.
He believed he was prepared to settle for the elder van Leyden daughter, long nose or not. He supposed she was healthy. They'd breed children, and she would preside over his table. That would be all he expected of her. In return she could have as many luxuries as she pleased.
With a decisive gesture he put his opera glasses away.
"Then let us go, shall we?"
Millicent van Leyden, pleased for some attention, welcomed Ephraim gladly. He was an old friend. She had even toyed with the thought that he might make a husband for either Mary Ellen or Louisa. Then she had realized that he was an incurable dandy with the pernickety ways of the confirmed bachelor and an embarrassing habit of pandering to the nouveaux riches. One hoped Mary Ellen and Louisa could do better than that. If they hadn't the looks, they did have the ability to make excellent wives and mothers. It was just too bad that so far no eligible young man had been seriously interested in them.
Mary Ellen was nearly twenty-seven, Louisa six years her junior. At the ball Millicent was shortly giving for Louisa's twenty-first birthday, something had to happen. She didn't want to think she had sacrificed her diamond necklace, part of the Boydell family jewels, in vain.
In the meantime here was Ephraim with one of his outlandish rich friends, a shortish man with a small golden beard and air of overwhelming virility. Even Millicent, permanently tired from worry and hopelessness, was aware of the virility. The girls on either side of her were reacting in their usual way: Mary Ellen bridling (an unfortunate mannerism that neither her mother nor any governess had been able to eliminate) and Louisa shrinking back slightly, with her exasperating shyness.
"Millicent, my dear," Ephraim said, lifting her head in his affected manner to kiss it. "Miss Mary Ellen. Miss Louisa. May I present my friend, Mr. Harry Spencer."
Harry gave a small formal bow to each of the ladies. He had noticed at once that Mrs. van Leyden's gown of gray satin had seen many wearings, that the elder daughter had a heavy discontented face and her white tulle was too young for her, and that the younger, who did look suitably innocent and virginal, raised her eyes only fleetingly so that he had no more than an impression of sapphire blue in a rather long, gentle face. She had a long neck, too. It was very graceful. Her hair was dark and done in a smooth coiffure, a contrast to her sister's high-piled, elaborate curls. She was obviously self-effacing and diffident. Malleable, Harry thought at once. He might not be qualified to teach his wife social graces, but he could teach her other things — if she were willing to learn.
Louisa van Leyden. He knew, with his sure instinct, that she was the one. This meeting, intended to be no more than an inspection of a possible acquisition, was suddenly surprisingly final. He would marry Louisa.
"Mr. Spencer is celebrating the completion of his new house," Ephraim was saying. "It's quite a showpiece. Isn't it, Harry?"
"Indeed," said Mrs. van Leyden politely. "And where is it, Mr. Spencer?"
"In the upper Sixties."
"Why did you build so far out of town?"
"It has a splendid view of the park. Excellent air." These people with their prejudices and their long-established habits. He was not pandering to any of them. "Perhaps you don't think it so desirable, Mrs. van Leyden. It happens to appeal to me, especially after having lived all my life in the Bowery.
"And I shall, of course, develop other areas in the vicinity," he added, as if he were speaking of doing nothing more important than tidying up an overgrown garden.
"Really!" exclaimed the elder Miss van Leyden with an air of rapt interest.
"Perhaps Mr. Spencer will invite you to see his marble staircase," Ephraim murmured. "He calls it yellow, but I prefer to say it is the color of champagne. It has that quality. The best French champagne, of course."
"Oh, Ephraim, you exaggerate so," said Mrs. van Leyden in her helpless voice.
"Do you care for the opera?" Harry asked, addressing himself to the younger daughter.
She started, realizing that he was speaking to her and that an answer was required.
"Very much, thank you. I think that Adelina Patti has a wonderful voice."
Her own voice, soft and breathless, was exactly what he had hoped it would be.
"And you, Mr. Spencer?" Mary Ellen was not going to be overlooked for her younger sister.
"I confess it goes over my head. I'm not an educated man."
"But you have come, nevertheless."
"You can try anything once, Miss van Leyden."
"I think we had better be getting back to our seats," Ephraim murmured. "The curtain must be going up in a moment."
Mrs. van Leyden leaned forward and tapped him with her fan.
"You have neglected us, Ephraim."
"I'm sorry, Millicent. May I present myself for a cup of morning chocolate tomorrow?"
"Of course. We'll be delighted, won't we, girls?"
"Yes, Mamma," said Mary Ellen, her eyes on Harry. Louisa was busy with her program. She scarcely looked up as the two men departed. Was she completely uninterested in the opposite sex? Such a thought was too macabre to be entertained for a moment.
"Well," said Ephraim, "you made an impression. Although you needn't have stated your views about the opera quite so emphatically."
"I won't pretend. I start as I mean to go on; otherwise I will find myself being dragged here every season."
"Perhaps you'll be dragged somewhere else instead. I make you a wager."
"That you'll shortly receive an invitation to the forthcoming ball at the van Leyden mansion."
Harry raised his eyebrows. "Did I make enough impression for that? I thought I was firmly relegated to my right category: an upstart from the Bowery."
"Well, my dear fellow, you would mention the Bowery. However, that direct style of yours may have something to be said for it. Mark my words, you are going to be thoroughly investigated, beginning with my call tomorrow morning. That is, if you still wish me to make it."
"Certainly I do. Nothing has changed. The terms we mentioned."
"I understand. After that, I wager the ladies will take a drive up Fifth Avenue in a hired coupe, as they can no longer run their own carriage. But they will duly note the richness and tastefulness of your house. Robert van Leyden still has a friend or two in the business world who will ferret out your prospects. Yes, I fancy you'll get your invitation to the ball. I only warn you not to drink the fruit cup. Find your way into the library, and van Leyden will give you some of his best bourbon."
"Are you sure they will be so ready to accept?" Harry asked.
"Why ever not? It's their answer to a prayer. Mind you, a little wooing may be required, just for the sake of appearances. Mary Ellen is not as young as she would like to be, but I guarantee she's still a virgin."
"A ridiculous name," Harry burst out. "She's either Mary or she's Ellen. If you must know the truth, I found her terrifying. One of those man-eating orchids you find in jungles."
"Did you, by jove? But young ladies must play some sort of courtship game. What else is there for them to do?"
"And what are they when they've stopped playing it?"
"That's a question I personally have never had the courage to find the answer to. You may have an angel or a shrew."
"For my part," said Harry definitely, "I prefer the younger one."
"Do you really! Now I never thought she would appeal to you. She hardly opens her mouth. She may even be a bluestocking. I would rather fancy she is."
"That would do me no harm."
Ephraim looked at him with disbelief.
"I never thought you'd be content to learn from a woman."
"Oh, certain things," said Harry. He seemed surprised himself. "But I'd have things to teach her, too."
"That's more like it, my dear fellow. I can't see you letting a woman get too powerful. I'd have sworn you would settle for Mary Ellen. But never mind, Louisa it shall be."
"She has that long neck," Harry murmured. "I find I like that in a woman."
Excerpted from The Millionaire's Daughter by Dorothy Eden. Copyright © 1974 Dorothy Eden. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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