|The Cost of Refuge
Author: Odysseus61188 PM
As the world falls into World War II, an aspiring writer finds himself torn between two women, a rich, married socialite with literary connections, or her maid, the beautiful Grace–torn between furthering his career and spending a life with his love.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama - Chapters: 4 - Words: 8,128 - Reviews: 10 - Updated: 05-27-05 - Published: 05-09-05 - id: 1908142
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Title: The Cost of Refuge
Genre: Historical Fiction– Drama
Setting: New York, 1940-1941
Plot: With World War II rapidlyintensifying in early 1940, an aspiring writer finds himself torn between two women, a rich, married socialite with literary connections, or her maid, the beautiful Grace–torn between furthering his career and spending a lifetime with the love of his life.
The Cost of Refuge
I took the Staten Island Ferry to Manhattan with Brian the next morning, bright and early. Used to operating on my own schedule, and being an evening person myself, the ride was an entire blur. I felt almost drunk–intoxicated by my lack of sleep. On my lap were pages of manuscript, but I didn't touch them the entire way. I felt so unproductive, but I didn't have much time to think about it; I fell asleep while still at our moorings in Staten Island, and didn't awake until we were pulling into the dock on Whitehall Street. I was sad that I had missed seeing the Statue of Liberty; I felt my five cents had been poorly spent. I told this to Brian, but he shook his head in disgust, and walked several paces ahead of me, so that the passers-by would think, perhaps, he was not my brother. I didn't care much; I didn't care if they thought I was related to a hardened man in a gray suit. I must've looked entirely different; I was wearing brown English tweeds, and a brown bowler placed rakishly atop my head. He looked like an ordinary American businessman, but I looked like a visiting British gentry; I seldom got dressed up, so I always make a spectacle of it whenever I did; usually, I sat around the house in old pants and a messy white shirt, without a tie or a jacket; no one saw me other than my brothers, and I could care less what they thought.
"You'll need to take the subway to the Pembrokes," Brian told me, when we stopped in front of the Bank of Manhattan. "You'll have to switch trains, but you can manage."
"I've never taken the subway alone before," I replied, "so if you think I'm going to change trains without the faintest idea where I'm going, you're gravely mistaken. Give me money for a taxi."
"Do you know how much taxis cost?"
"Less than all of the money you've been hording, I'm sure."
Grumbling bitterly, he reached into his pocket and handed me a crisp dollar bill. "Here."
"Thank you," I answered. "Goodbye."
"I'll see you at home," he replied, and disappeared inside the white limestone Bank of Manhattan.
When my taxi pulled up to the Pembrokes' brownstone at 47 East 94th Street. It wasn't any particular style, but would best be classified, I suppose, as a Medieval Tudor; it had those many-paned windows decorating its reddish brick façade. A creeping moss covered most of the front, leaving holes where the windows and doors were. Three dormers, roughly equal in size and prominence, and housing windows with freshly-painted yellow shutters, sat energetically on the slate roof. Below them were five large bay windows, with great Tudor influence in their panes, cased by more yellow shutters. Two similar bay windows and shutters were on the ends of the façade on the bottom level, holding up three cream-colored window boxes, with red daisies planted neatly inside. A beige brick-rimmed arch was in the center, flanked by two smaller, shutter less windows. Inside that arch were a pair of mahogany doors, each with a shiny brass knocker. Next to the door was a small fountain, made out of white marble–a cherub, standing on a serpent, and his arms wrapped around a large jug, which he was subsequently spitting into.
I clutched the knocker, banged it twice, then waited patiently. A small Filipino, with beady eyes and narrow spectacles, his black hair neatly parted, greeted me. He was a chauffeur, based on his dress, which made me wonder why he was answering the door.
"May I help you, sir?" he asked. He sounded American–from the South, even; his family must have immigrated shortly after the Spanish war, if not sooner.
"I am looking for Miss Grace Damon, the Pembrokes' governess."
"She took the children out to the park an hour ago," he informed me. "They always leave bright and early on Saturday mornings when Mr. Pembroke is away."
"May I inquire when Miss Damon will be returning?"
"It shouldn't be more than a half-hour. You're welcome to wait in the kitchen for her, if you'd like. Follow me, Mr.–"His voice trailed off, bringing glaring recognition to the fact that we hadn't been introduced.
"Connelly," I quickly . "I'm sorry for not introducing myself; I'm Stephen Connelly."
"I'm Marcos Ferdinand, and it's a pleasure to meet you, sir."
I entered into the foyer behind him. It was a rather pretentious room, its walls lined with sparkling white paneling, and a large sweeping staircase in the rightmost corner, edged with a white balustrade and mahogany handrails. A small seating area, just left of the base of the stairs, was planted atop a beige Oriental carpet, and included a green sofa and two dainty yellowish French chairs. In the leftmost corner of the room was a large wooden Steinway. One wall, on the right side of the room, housed two doors, which blended in miraculously with the paneling. The left wall in the room was nonexistent; where it would be were four slender Corinthian columns, three stairs leading downwards, and an ornate, sunken parlor. I looked up, to find myself staring at an enormous brass and crystal chandelier, and beyond that, the ceiling must have been thirty feet high; it reached right to the roof atop the third floor.
My feet dragged slowly along the black and white marble floor. "How old is this house?"
The chauffeur chuckled a bit. "It's rather gorgeous, isn't it? It was built in 1703, I believe, to commemorate Queen Elizabeth's death a century prior. They bought it from this tycoon who was ruined in the Panic of '29, right after they married. I used to work for him here–he loved this house, and it had been in his family for four generations. But all good things come to an end, after all, don't they?"
"Yes," I told him. "My family was ruined in '29, too."
"Everyone was," he replied. "Everyone was. My sister says it's because people loved money too much. When someone loves something earthly like that so much, it's bound to bring destruction. She says it's only practical to love God; He's the only one that will never hurt you." He chuckled again. "She's an Anglican nun, of course, so I'm sure you can realize her biases."
He opened the second door on the right wall, and led me into a kitchen, painted a pale green, with checkered linoleum on the floor. It was a delightful room with a low ceiling, no more than eight feet high. I liked it because the kitchen seemed very comfortable, without being as ornate as the rest of the house; ornate rooms always had a sense of museum-like forbiddingness, circulating a very stodgy, traditionalist air. I liked rooms like this well-lit kitchen. It smelled like bacon; numerous pots and pans were simmering on the stove for breakfast.
The chauffeur brought me to a small protruding alcove, lined with large windows looking out to the small but neatly landscaped backyard, and sat me at the kitchen table, surrounded by four matching chairs–a maple dining set. Each chair had a green and beige paisley cushion on the seat. I sat at one of the tables, and sat diligently. The chauffeur left as soon as I was seated, so there was no more conversation–and I was too polite to look around the kitchen. So I sat.
I didn't sit long, for suddenly, I heard thunderous footsteps coming down the kitchen staircase. A woman, perhaps only a decade older than me, stood at the top of the stairs dressed in a short white silk nightdress, barely hidden because her sweeping red and gold kimono was only loosely tied around her waist–and it was made of relatively sheer fabric anyway. Her auburn curls were piled on top of her head, tucked underneath a white scarf. Despite her uncomfortable lack of clothing, she wore pearl earrings on each of her ears, a jade necklace around her neck, and an opulent diamond bracelet around her wrist.
"I thought I heard someone down here," she said, in a sensual alto voice, ringing with a conservative English accent. "One doesn't know what to wear, of course, to poke around downstairs, but it appears I may be underdressed." She let out a bit of melodious laughter. "I'm terribly sorry–who are you?"
"My name is Stephen Connelly," I told her, taking off my hat politely. "It's a pleasure, miss."
"I'm Vivian Pembroke," she told me. "What brings you to my house?"
"I am here to see Miss Damon."
"Oh, you're Colin's brother, then, I presume," she replied. "Yes, yes–I know all about you. The writer, are you not?"
"One surmises as much," she assured me. "You didn't look dreary enough to be a banker." Another line of her melodic laughter rang. "I'm dreadfully sorry–I had a lot to drink last night, you must understand. Far too much; I'll have to have less next time." She smiled at me and stopped talking for a moment. I could study her face closely now. Her eyes were large, almond shaped, and hazel colored–a type of murky brownish green, like the first dying leaves in the early autumn–still a dim green, but with an underlying brownish red swirling inside of the mess of color. She was breathtakingly beautiful–but possessed none of Grace's angelic loveliness. Grace had a sort of innocent charm to her, but not Mrs. Pembroke; she had an opulent glow to her. She was sensual. She was sheer earthly beauty.
"Grace took my children to the park," she continued finally. "They love Central Park in the morning. And it gives me a chance to throw myself together before they come back." Again, another one of her laughs echoed. "I seldom see anyone outside of the house while my husband is in town; he's rather prudish. So one must make their rounds while he's away on business. He's in London for now, and has been for the last month. But I don't mind. I'm fine with him away. I have friends to comfort me, you know. One can never have too many close friends."
"Darling!" sang Grace, as she came into the kitchen. She was a bit surprised by seeing me and Mrs. Pembroke at the table; she was obviously not expecting either of us to be there. "Stephen–why, it's you. I thought it was Colin. Marcos only said that a Mr. Connelly was here to see me, so naturally I assumed–"
"We were just chatting, dear," Mrs. Pembroke said, beginning to rise from the table. She turned back to me quickly. "It was a pleasure meeting you."
"Likewise, Mrs. Pembroke."
"No, no," she said. "It must be Vivian. Nothing but Vivian. I'm twenty-nine. When I turn thirty, perhaps, it will be Mrs. Pembroke. But not now."
"Vivian," I repeated.
"Good," she smiled. "Now, you are staying for brunch." It wasn't so much a question, as a statement. I didn't have a choice, and it would be rude to reject such hospitality; diligently, I accepted her invitation.
She danced up the stairs as if moving to the steady beat of a waltz, reminiscent of the melodiousness in her voice, muttering something incoherently about dressing for breakfast.
"She's a card," Grace told me. She shook her head in a slightly disapproving manner. "Now, what brings you hear? What did you need to tell me?"
"Why do you assume I have a motive for being here?"
"You never come into the city," she said, "let alone on a Saturday morning. And you've never come to see me at work. So tell me what happened, Stephen."
I sighed sadly; I had planned to ease into telling her, for I knew it would be harder both to say and for her to accept if I told her straight. But there was no way around it now.
"Colin went to Europe to enlist in the RAF."
"No!" she gasped, holding her hand to her mouth. "No, no, Stephen. You're mistaken. Colin would never do that to me. You must have heard wrong, or assumed wrong, or something of the sort–"
"He left a note," I told her. "And he explained it all."
"Why were you reading my letter?"
"It was addressed to me and Brian."
She turned around, and croaked out a faint, "Oh."
Without uttering another word, she made her way over to the back door, and into the backyard. I saw her sit on one of the wrought iron chairs on the patio, and lay her head on the bistro table. I couldn't go out to her. There was nothing I could say to comfort her. There was absolutely nothing.
I stood there for a moment, watching her sob on the patio. I didn't know what to do, so I just stood there, unable to help console her.