True Colors: Historical Stories of American Crime Fiction Based on Strange, But True, HistoryWill Edyth prove her sanity before it is too late? On Blackwell’s Island, New York, a hospital was built to keep its patients from ever leaving. With her late parents’ fortune under her uncle’s care until her twenty-fifth birthday in the year 1887, Edyth Foster does not feel pressured to marry or to bow to society’s demands. She freely indulges in eccentric hobbies like fencing and riding her velocipede in her cycling costume about the city for all to see. Finding a loophole in the will, though, her uncle whisks Edyth off to the women’s lunatic asylum just weeks before her birthday. And Edyth fears she will never be found. At the asylum she meets another inmate, who upon discovering Edyth’s plight, confesses that she is Nellie Bly, an undercover journalist for The World. Will either woman find a way to leave the terrifying island and reclaim her true self? Also Look for:White City by Grace Hitchcock (March 2019)Pink Bonnet by Liz Tolsma (June 2019)Yellow Lantern by Angie Dicken (August 2019)Blue Cloak by Shannon McNear (March 2020)
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About the Author
Grace Hitchcock is the author of three novellas in The Second Chance Brides, The Southern Belle Brides, and the Thimbles and Threads collections with Barbour Publishing. The White City is her debut novel and releases March 2019 with Barbour Publishing. She holds a Masters in Creative Writing and a Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in History. Grace lives in southern Louisiana with her husband, Dakota, and son. Visit Grace online at GraceHitchcock.com.
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When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.
~ Leonardo da Vinci
New York City, Fall 1887
Edyth Foster's limbs burned as she pedaled down Fifth Avenue, her white skirts whipping in the wind while she wove around pedestrians and carriages, ignoring their shouts of protest. Rounding the corner, she slowed her velocipede and overheard two women gasp and comment on her lack of chapeau and corset. Biting her lip, Edyth lifted her hand to her curls, realizing that she had once again forgotten her hat. Oh well. That is the least peculiar thing about me. She giggled at the thought and parked her bicycle at the side of the building before hurrying up the steps to the fencers' club, her heart pounding with anticipation of seeing Raoul Banebridge.
Pausing in the small women's dressing chamber, a room which was seldom used by any other woman than herself, she fitted her padded buckskin plastron over her chest before donning a matching buckskin gauntlet to protect herself from the thrust of a blade. Adjusting the burgundy sash over her skirt, she grabbed her wire mask, exited the dressing chamber, and stepped into the fencing area, scanning the room for her handsome instructor. The familiar scent of leather and sweat greeted her, but the men continued their exercises, no longer turning in shock at her presence as they had a decade ago when her father first brought her as a girl of fourteen. She had been a rather plump child, but the years of fencing had turned her muscles lean and strong.
Tucking an ebony wisp of hair behind her ear, she swung her arms across her body, stretching her muscles, and met the dark gaze of Bane. The clanging of steel against steel dulled as he strode across the room.
"You're late again, Edyth." Bane tossed her a foil sword, which she caught with ease. "When are you going to surrender your velocipede and take your perfectly respectable carriage to class?" Whipping her blade into position, she grinned. "Never. Besides, cycling warms my muscles to save me from stretching forever. Now, if you will be so kind, en garde!"
He shook his head and, with a laugh, assumed a defensive stance and gave her the signal that he was ready. "Pret."
"Let's fence. Allez," she responded, and lunged.
Bane parried, his eyes twinkling. "Come now, Edyth, is that the best you've got? Were you up past the wee hours painting again? Perhaps you should heed your instructor and warm up before jumping into a bout with him."
Ignoring him, Edyth stepped forward on the narrow piste as Bane darted backward on the marked-off area, once again blocking her attack that was aimed between his shoulder and blade. He made his counterattack, which she parried, proud that she could hold her own against New York's finest fencing master. But of course the moment she had such a thought, the tip of his blade met her waist as the timekeeper called the three-minute mark of their first round.
Grabbing a towel, she dabbed at the light sheen on her forehead, the weight of her request pressing down on her. "So, what did you decide about coming to the dinner party tonight? Uncle Boris has informed me on multiple occasions how rude it is of you to keep us waiting so long for your answer to our invitation."
He groaned and raked a hand through his shoulder-length blond hair that boasted the most delightful curl at the ends. "You know how much I hate those social gatherings, Edyth. Mothers never fail to present their daughters as a marriageable option, and I'm too busy with the fencing club to be distracted with taking care of a female's tender emotions."
"But you understand that I must attend, and as it is hosted by my uncle's new wife in honor of her daughter's return from living in Paris for the past four years, I won't know any of Mrs. Foster's society friends and it will be excruciatingly dull if you aren't there," she said all in one breath. "Please? If you do, I'll have the cook bake that lemon poppy seed bread that you enjoy so much and send it home with you tonight."
His lips curled in a grimace. "Fine. But this is the last time, Edyth, and I want two loaves."
She dipped her torso down, flipping her arms behind her in an exaggerated bow. "Done. Thank you, kind sir, for your gracious acceptance of my invitation."
"What are friends for except for attending boring parties in exchange for food? Minute break is up." He motioned her back onto the piste.
Friends. She gritted her teeth. He had been a friend to her since she had started coming to this club when he, at eighteen, was a champion, a man poised to purchase the club, while she was still an awkward girl. Their families knew of one another from society's intimate circle, and with Edyth's lessons, dinner invitations soon became a common occurrence between the two families and the pair found they enjoyed one another's company. And when her parents died the following year, he had become her closest friend, but Edyth couldn't help but feel that he still saw her as that pudgy girl of fourteen, not a woman of nearly five and twenty. She shook her arms to free herself of her morose thoughts and loosen her muscles. She sent him what she hoped was a brilliant smile and bowed with her foil before stepping onto the piste once again to finish their bout. As usual, Bane won, but closing the gap between the scores always made Edyth feel like it was a success no matter how many points he bested her by.
After an hour-long lesson, she slipped out of the fencing area and spied her wild hair in the looking glass of the women's area. Edyth cringed and ran her hands over her braid that had tumbled from her coiffure before smoothing her white fencing gown, its loose structure feeling more natural to her than any day gown. Maybe that's part of the problem of why we are only friends. But even if she did relinquish her comfortable gowns for the more stylish ones, Bane still might not see her as a woman. With a dismissive shrug, she decided not to change her clothes or adjust her hair, as she was certain cycling would undo whatever she managed to fix.
Leaving her gear on her designated shelf, Edyth hopped onto her velocipede and pedaled home, reveling in the crisp air, her long braid whipping behind her back. When the snow fell, she would have no other choice but to take her carriage to and from the fencing club, but as soon as it melted, she would be back on her two wheels. She was used to the wide-eyed stares from women as she passed by, the shocked expressions of men, and the gleeful pointing of the children as she cycled around them. She didn't necessarily care whether or not she fit into society's idea of the perfect gentlewoman. She was one of the fortunate ones, one of the few women who had her future secured without needing to put on a facade to secure a husband's pocketbook. And she was aware enough by now that any man who did attempt to woo her was, in fact, after the significant inheritance left to her by her parents.
Not a day went by that she did not long to be in her father's and mother's embrace or think of that horrific accident. She was supposed to have gone ice skating with them that day. But she had caught a cold and stayed at home. Shaking her dark thoughts, she focused on the fiery foliage of the sugar maples and scarlet oaks and the purple and golds of the green ash trees, attempting to enjoy the fall months while she could, when something gray stirring in the bushes to her left caught her eye. Catching her foot on the sidewalk, Edyth slowed her velocipede and hopped off, wheeling her bike beside her.
Passersby complained when she parked her bicycle against the tree and stooped down to the bush on her knees to find a bedraggled, mewing kitten. "Oh, you poor little dear." She scooped the kitten into her arms and cuddled it to her neck, offering the little one warmth as its frantic mewing increased. She looked about for a mother or siblings, but seeing none, she held the kitten in one hand and wheeled her bicycle home with the other.
Slipping through the side iron gate that was left open for the staff and deliveries, Edyth parked her velocipede and used the service entrance. Waving to the staff who, by now were quite used to her strange comings and goings, did not even blink at the sight of her below stairs.
"Miss Foster, what is this? Another stray?" The butler's graying wiry brows stooped along with his deep voice.
"Harrison, how could I not take him in?" She lifted the kitten up to her cheek and nuzzled him, her nose crinkling at the putrid smell clinging to his fur.
"Because you have already taken in two strays this year and one last. I do not know how these kittens keep finding you, but this has to stop at some point, miss. Four felines are simply too many for one household. Where are we going to keep them all? They will destroy the furnishings."
"Well, I suppose we can adjust one of the guest rooms to suit them, don't you think? Perhaps we could pull some old items from the servants' quarters to furnish it and replace the worn things with new ones that are more to the servants' liking?"
He sighed and rubbed his brows with his thumb and forefinger, causing the wild hairs to stick out every which way. "We wondered when you would get to the point of giving your cats a room, but we had hoped you would be fifty and have a few gray hairs before it happened."
She rose on her tiptoes and pressed a kiss to Harrison's withered cheek. "I am a spinster, so four cats in total really isn't all that much, now is it?"
"Will you ever reach a number that is too many?" He smirked, making him look far younger than his sixty years.
"I think perhaps nine would be too many. Please see to it that Katie gives Michelangelo a bath." She deposited the kitten into his hands. "Thank you, Harrison," she called over her shoulder, and darted up the tight, winding staircase to her bedroom on the second floor, nodding and smiling to any maid in passing.
Her leather fencing shoes padded on the lush carpet of the hall leading to her chambers, but before she reached her suite, a shrill voice came from the library that could only be her new aunt expressing herself as she was known to do on occasion. Was wedding a beautiful woman worth enduring such antics, Uncle?
"What do you mean? You have put up with this nonsense for years and the answer was right here in front of you this whole time and you did not even see it?" Mrs. Foster's high-pitched shriek pierced Edyth's ears from behind the mahogany door.
She sucked in her breath, tempted to continue on to her rooms when another stream began. But while she and Uncle Boris had never been as close as she would wish, Edyth didn't feel right about leaving him to fend for himself if she could distract his new bride from unbridling her wrath. With a soft knock, she opened the door to her father's dark study that she rarely used. Father had kept it well stocked with books from generations of collectors, but she couldn't afford the fascination. Books were too quiet a pastime. She needed to be in motion or fiercely concentrating on something, else her thoughts would come knocking.
"Uncle Boris? Is everything well?" The man who looked so much like her father rose from a leather wingback chair facing the crackling fireplace with a stack of official-looking documents gripped in his fist.
"Everything is fine, Edyth." His gaze traveled over her wild hair and fencing ensemble, his thin lips pressing into a firm line.
Edyth shifted uncomfortably. He had never looked at her like this before he brought Mrs. Foster home last summer. And now for the protest in three, two, one —
Mrs. Foster gestured to Edyth's attire and heaved a sigh. "Really, Boris, is this not all the proof you need? Your niece is cycling about the city dressed in this outlandish gown for all the world to see when she could have the latest of fashions shipped in from Paris and be driven in one of her many carriages like a proper lady."
Uncle Boris lifted his finger to his lips and quirked a brow at his bride. "Too much, dear. All in good time."
Edyth surveyed the room to see if a half-empty crystal decanter was near at hand to make sense of why they were both behaving so oddly.
"But your aunt is correct, Edyth. It is hardly appropriate for people to see you in such attire. Upon your velocipede, your ankles are certainly in danger of being exposed with every turn of the wheel."
Mrs. Foster pursed her lips. "It is bad enough you wear that ensemble at the fencing club, or that you are a member at a fencing club for that matter, but you flaunt your lack of regard of fashion and etiquette to the entire city."
Edyth swallowed back a reminder to her new aunt that she and Uncle Boris were only living on Fifth Avenue because they were residing in Edyth's mansion, not her uncle's. She had never begrudged her uncle a generous allowance from her trust, but his bride was making it rather a burden to house them. Four more months and I will have the right to my fortune and the ability to set Uncle up in his own apartment and be free from his so-called guardianship. She ran her fingertips over the calluses on her palm and drew a deep breath. Lord, give me strength to be kind. "I apologize if I have caused you embarrassment."
Her aunt gave a short laugh and was about to say something when Uncle Boris placed his hand on her shoulder, halting her onslaught. Mrs. Foster pinched the bridge of her nose, mumbling something about it being all Boris's fault for not doing his due diligence. She lifted her palms up and twitched her lips into a sharp smile. "Well, I'm hoping Lavinia's influence will smooth out your many rough edges, Edyth. Your cousin is to arrive within the hour, so I suggest you leave us to our own business and change into something appropriate. Your uncle and I have too much to discuss to stop and address your many faults."
Edyth clenched and unclenched her fists, swallowing her smoldering response. As Mother used to quote, a gentle answer turns away wrath. She dipped into the lowest curtsy she could manage and answered dutifully, "Your wish is my command, oh my queen."
* * *
Raoul Banebridge adjusted his worn inverness coat, his focus on the floor-length windows ablaze with candlelight, and braced himself against a gust that whipped his umbrella nearly inside out. If Edyth wasn't such a good family friend ... He cleared his throat and pushed aside the discomfiture of not knowing many in attendance for the chance of a fancy meal. Having spent all his hours and small inheritance on his fencing club, he had little time to spare for dinner parties. In the beginning days when he was building his number of students, Bane attended every party — those he was invited to and those he wasn't. He had managed to procure invitations through Edyth until she had sworn off high society events and could not be persuaded to change her mind. But now that the fencing club had grown in popularity with the elite set, it required all his attention, and parties had become things of the past.
Strolling around the other guests' arriving carriages, he nodded to the doorman and handed his black umbrella, top hat, and coat to the young butler who stood just inside the marble foyer. Sounds of laughter flowed out of the front parlor followed by the clinking of glasses when Edyth flew around the corner in the most outlandish blue-and-green plaid dress he had ever beheld. While he didn't mingle too much with his set anymore, he knew most women chose to wear more demure gowns. This tartan was something new altogether. Bane's gaze went to her hair and he saw that she was trying something different with her coiffure, but the curls, which he assumed she had attempted to tame, had become quite frizzled.
"You're here! I've been watching for you," she breathed, snatching his hand in hers before remembering herself and dropping it and executing a perfect curtsy.
"Of course I am here. You begged me to attend. What kind of teacher would I be if I disappointed the one student who has attended every single one of the fencing club's expositions, demonstrations, and whatnot?" His little friend was nothing if not supportive of his fencing school, but he did not wish to tell her how much it meant to him, lest more invitations follow now that the Parisian stepcousin had come to the city.
"Your hair looks dashing pulled back into a queue, Bane." She reached out and brushed off his coat, her fingertips lingering for a second, then two before she folded her hands in front of her skirts.
"Thank you. And you look ..." He motioned to her attire and settled with, "Uh, very clean."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Gray Chamber"
Copyright © 2020 Grace Hitchcock.
Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
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