The guests entered the dining room to find it elaborately furnished. Velvet chairs lined the table. Silk tablecloths stretched across the surface of the sideboard, and resting upon it were dishes of the finest china.
"Everything looks beautiful, Sophie," Louisa Kerrington cooed into Beatrice's cousin's ear. "Even with your mother away, you managed to plan such a lovely evening for us all."
"Yes, Sophie is quite something, isn't she?" Will grinned, putting an arm around Sophie, which she promptly shrugged off. "Anytime I would ask her if she needed any help with anything, her answer was always a solid 'no'."
Sophie smiled pleasantly. "I just like things done my way. Often if I ask for any help, the work takes me twice as long to finish. It is much easier on my own. Will, you will be sitting down at the far end. Louisa, you will join him on one side. Oh Jenny, dear! I am so glad you were able to attend tonight. Why don't you go sit by Will as well..."
Beatrice could have sworn she saw the jockey sigh a bit of disappointment after Jenny got her seating assignment. Beatrice had yet to meet the new jockey, but he seemed to be nice enough. He had to be of high standard to escort Sophie anywhere. Jenny smiled almost apologetically back at the jockey before taking her seat at the end of the table.
"Didn't you say you needed to speak with Jenny tonight?" Beatrice whispered to Eddie as Sophie continued with the seating of her guests. "I thought you mentioned something about that during the carriage ride..."
Eddie smiled at Beatrice. "Thank you for reminding me. But I suppose I will have to make time for that after dinner; it looks as if I will not be sitting near Jenny," he watched as Jacob Sully, Harriett Jacoby and Nicholas Decker took seats by Jenny.
"Yes, I imagine we will have plenty of time to chat with one another," Beatrice agreed. "Eddie?"
"Hm?" He turned to her with a smile. In fact, Beatrice had noticed he had been in a good mood all evening. She wondered what he had done after he left her house that afternoon.
"I just wanted to thank you for escorting me tonight," Beatrice said gratefully. "After my fight with Sophie...it would have been hard to come alone, on my own terms."
Eddie smiled down at Beatrice rather sweetly, his brown eyes twinkling. "Do you remember what I used to tell you all the time when we were children? That you were my girl. I will always have time for you, Trixie." He gave her a wink.
Beatrice sighed and cast a look toward her cousin, now seating William Trager and Cecily Brunsman. "You had better not let Sophie hear you saying things like that. She seemed awfully upset that you escorted me tonight, even though I was invited."
Eddie sighed and a sharp expression of annoyance crossed his face. "Sophie is always going to have a harsh reaction to anything you do, Beatrice. She seems to think everything is a competition between the two of you. Honestly, contrary to what she was saying this afternoon, I believe that Sophie, not you, is the one who needs to grow up a bit."
"Joseph, would you sit at this end of the table, please? Yes, I would like to sit at the head. You are our guest of honor, after all," Sophie continued her dictations. She then turned to Beatrice and Eddie. "Ah, my dear little old friends." She pursed her lips and directed Eddie toward a seat near the end of the table. "Mr. Epstein, why don't you go sit between the Misses McCallisters?"
Eddie began toward the McCallister sisters with a gracious smile. "This is the first time I have ever attended a Cartwright dinner party where I was not seated next to at least one of the Cartwright cousins."
"Yes, well things change, don't they?" Sophie replied sharply and dismissively. "And Beatrice..." Sophie turned to look at her cousin with a look of pure distaste, masked behind a hostess' smile. "You are certainly considered to be an important little maiden. Perhaps you would like to sit next to our guest of honor?"
Beatrice returned Sophie's frosty smile with a soft one. "Of course, Sophie. I have not yet had the pleasure of formally meeting Mr. Watson. I am glad my anxious wait is finally over." She took her seat next to the new jockey and patted a napkin onto her lap as the rest of the group took their seats. She turned to him with a smile. "Good evening, Mr. Watson. I am Beatrice Cartwright, Sophie's younger cousin. I have been wishing to meet you for quite some time, now. I have heard marvelous things about you."
The young, little jockey turned toward her with a small smile playing across his lips and replied courteously, "And I you, Miss Cartwright. It is a pleasure to meet your acquaintance." He then turned back to face forward, toward Renee Elmwood, who was seated across from him. It was then that Beatrice realized what Sophie had been trying to do by seating her by Joseph. She had known that Beatrice and Joseph had nothing in common. She wanted Beatrice to feel uncomfortable, out of place. She wanted her to feel as if she should not even be at the dinner party. And as much as Beatrice wanted to prove her scheming cousin wrong, she could not think of even one thing to say to the young man beside her. Beatrice suddenly felt her mouth go dry in worry. What if this evening turned into a complete disaster?
But then, with a charming smile upon his face, the new jockey turned to Beatrice and grinned. "So how about that Lord and Taylor?"
Beatrice's face flustered with confusion. "What?"
"I'm sorry," Joseph said with a laugh in his voice, "but I was not sure what we were going to talk about, you and I. If you were just another guy, I would be asking you how the Yankees were doing. And if you were just any other girl from my hometown, we would be talking about what was going on in the city and whose family got a new horse. But you are not either of those types of people, so I am not sure where to begin our first conversation, Miss Cartwright."
Beatrice was a bit startled. So Joseph had been also been wondering what they would talk about, and he had admitted it. She felt it a little upsetting she would now have to spend an entire evening with a man whom she had nothing in common with, but at the same time Beatrice felt reassured by how comfortable his voice was when he spoke to her. "Firstly," Beatrice began softly, "I would be so pleased if you would call me Beatrice. And about how to start our conversation…I believe we just did."
Joseph grinned at Beatrice. After a moment's hesitation, he leaned in to her and said, "You know, back at my house, there are flowers planted in boxes outside my window that match the exact color of your dress."
Beatrice's hands wandered over her silk skirt. "Do you really? That must be lovely."
"It is," Joseph affirmed, nodding his head. "Especially when they first bloom in the spring. I'm not sure what they're called. My mother always did all the gardening at the house. The rest of us took care of the farm. But now that I'm reminded of those flowers, I'm going to write back to her and ask what they were called, so that I can have some planted by my windows at this house. Do you think that might be possible, Miss—I mean, Beatrice?"
"I think so," Beatrice nodded, smiling. "I could even help you with it, if you do find out what the flowers are. I am not an expert on gardening, but I used to help the gardeners when I was a little girl. Maybe we could even plant the flowers together."
"I'd like that," Joseph agreed, smiling back. He had such a nice smile, Beatrice noticed. "I'd like that a lot."
Beatrice grinned at the thought of this new friend. "Did your sisters help your mother with the gardening back home?"
"I don't have any sisters," Joseph said, his mouth twisting a bit at the sides, as if he was regretful. "Just brothers. Six of them."
"Six!" Beatrice exclaimed.
"Haven't you ever heard that the Irish like to breed lots of red-headed babies?"
Beatrice laughed. "I am sorry I have to tell you that you are not very red-haired, Joseph."
"No, but four of my brothers are," Joseph laughed. "Jamie, Thomas, Keith and Benjamin. Alex and Brendan are blond, and I am the lone dark-headed of the family. Strange, eh?"
"My parents were both dark-haired," Beatrice confided in Joseph. "I have a photograph of the pair of them on their wedding day, and my father's hair was as dark as yours and just as curly. My hair is curly too, but you cannot tell when it is all done up like this…" Beatrice reached to touch her upswept hair. "My mother's hair was straight though, long and shiny, like Sophie's. Sometimes Sophie and I wondered if she was really my sister instead of my cousin, because she looked so much like Mother. My parents used to take Sophie everywhere, too. If they were taking me to the park, they would bring Sophie along. She was always the more energetic of the two of us. Father would play catch with her on the green while Mother would sit and play with my hair."
"Your parents sound lovely," Joseph said. "I would like to meet them someday. Are they here tonight?" he asked, sitting upright and looking about the room.
Beatrice bit her bottom lip and frowned. "I suppose that Sophie never told you that… that my parents are dead. They died almost ten years ago."
Joseph gave a sigh of shock and sympathy and shook his head. "No one told me, Beatrice. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be tactless…"
"It's fine," Beatrice assured him with a sad smile.
"I really didn't know. No one's said anything," Joseph apologized. "And here I was going on about wanting to meet them…"
"Joseph," Beatrice insisted. "It is fine. It was a long time ago. Of course it is deeply saddening, but I have grown up without them." She smiled a bit. "I like to think that I have grown to be more independent as a result of not having parents. But of course, I have had my grandmother watching over me my entire life."
"Ah," Joseph smiled. "Grandmothers can be a little bit of a pain."
"You obviously have not met my grandmother," Beatrice laughed. "Otherwise you would know that grandmothers can be an immense pain." Joseph laughed with her, and a sense of comradeship began to fall over the two as they talked over relationships, events, and ideas.
As the waiters served the courses and the guests made polite conversation with each other, Beatrice found herself studying the young man beside her. She found that she liked the way Joseph's mouth wrinkled at the ends when he smiled; she found it rather endearing how his eyes crinkled when he laughed; there was something about his warm brown eyes that made Beatrice feel as if he actually cared what she was saying when she spoke to him, he was not just being polite, but that he was genuinely intrigued by her words. And surprisingly, though Beatrice had nothing in common with this middle-class jockey, she found herself absorbed in everything he talked about.
"Keith…" Joseph said as he took a drink of his wine a few courses later, "Keith is already married and thinks himself quite a man because of it. But he and his wife still live on my father's property in a little house that we all helped him build. It's all a bit selfish of him, if you ask me."
"Is it? Perhaps he just wants to stay by his family," Beatrice reasoned.
"Maybe, but you don't know Keith. He likes to take the easy way out of things. Staying on the family land is just his easy way out of working like everybody else." Joseph rolled his eyes, but then looked at Beatrice with a patient expression upon his face. "Okay, see, that's not how I would do anything if I were in his shoes. Just for example, say that we got married, you and I."
"You and I?" Beatrice asked, laughing.
"I'm just using us as an example!" Joseph assured her. He added with a mischievous look in his eyes, "Would you rather I use Sophie as the example?"
"No thank you, I will be the example," Beatrice laughed.
"Okay, so say that I married you," Joseph continued. "This is how I would do it. We would court for a while. You know, I'd take you for a buggy ride after church along the country dirt roads and we might go to a corn husking together or something—"
"Things must be different in Atlanta!" she teased.
Joseph laughed. "After a few months of that, you would meet my parents and brothers. And I would meet with your…grandmother. I would ask her for your hand in marriage. After she gave permission, I would personally ask you to be my bride, and naturally you would accept," he grinned.
"Oh, of course!"
"And then I would get started on getting things ready for our life together. I would buy us some land and build you a big house with windows in every room and purple flowers in the boxes. It would be a place of our own, not to share with a big, loud family of in-laws." Joseph shrugged. "It would be a fresh start, a new life."
Beatrice smiled softly. "Well, it sounds like you have your whole life planned out."
"I used to think so," Joseph agreed. "But then I realized something… I don't live in Atlanta anymore."
Beatrice glanced up at Joseph's wide brown eyes, so open. He had reminded her of a young boy, the way he looked. Not because he was a small jockey, but because he had such a look of innocence on his face, a face that was so unusual in a rogue city like New York. Beatrice could tell that he had already grown up a bit during his short time in the city.
"Joseph!" A booming voice awoke them both from their intimate conversation. "The gentlemen are about to withdraw themselves to the inner parlor for drinks. Joining us?" Will asked, towering over little Louisa at the far side of the table. The other men had already gotten up from their seats and were politely excusing themselves from the table.
"Of course," Joseph nodded, wiping his mouth with his napkin and beginning to rise.
"Oh!" Beatrice put a hand to his shoulder with a pained look on her face. "Please do not go!"
Joseph grinned at Beatrice and glanced at her hand. "Would you rather me sit out here with you and the other ladies?"
"No, of course not." She hastily pulled her hand back. "I just… so enjoyed talking with you tonight. I hardly want the night to end. You have been the best company I have had in such a long time."
"You know, Miss Cartwright," Joseph said with a twinkle in his eye, "I'm technically you're employee. You can have me come talk to you anytime you like."
"You would really?"
"Well, there are the exceptions," Joseph said in mock seriousness. "Say, if I were riding in a derby or something, I don't think Mr. Cartwright would think very highly of me if I just stopped in the middle of the race to go talk to you." Beatrice grinned. "But anytime, Beatrice. I had a wonderful evening as well, a surprisingly wonderful evening." He took her hand in his and gently kissed the top of it, his lips soft.
"I will see you soon?" Beatrice asked hopefully.
"I hope so," Joseph nodded smiling. "But don't you go falling in love with me, Miss Cartwright."
But as Beatrice watched sweet little Joseph Murray retreat to the inner parlor with the other gentleman guests, she felt an insistent tug at her heart, feeling that she already had begun to.
Hours later, shortly after the dinner party had concluded, Eddie's carriage harshly prattled along the pavements of New York as he drove Jenny home. It had taken a few minutes of negotiation, but Jenny had finally given in to his pleading. She knew that she should not be alone with a young, single man—especially not at night—but after hearing Louisa's dreadful news that evening, Jenny felt she needed to speak with Eddie.
But the pair had kept silent the entire ride thus far.
Jenny sighed with impatience and brushed a lock of red hair away from her face with her white-gloved hand, wishing Eddie would take notice. If he did, he showed no signs of it. His face remained properly pleasant, staring out the window of the carriage, thinking of God-knows-what. Finally, Jenny—not known for her tolerance—said dryly, "Are you even going to speak to me about what I heard this evening?"
Eddie looked up in surprise, his brown eyes bright. "What did you hear, Cricket?"
A childhood nickname. How could he use titles of endearment at a time like this? Jenny frowned at Eddie. "Louisa told me about your… unfortunate situation. Why did you not tell me, Eddie? How could you?" Eddie shook his head in misunderstanding. Jenny took a deep breath. "Why did you not tell me that you were proposing to Beatrice?"
"Proposing to Beatrice!" Eddie exclaimed in shock, his eyes wide. "Where did you get a preposterous idea like that, Jenny? Oh, I know. Louisa Kerrington. Jenny," Eddie leaned closer to her face and took Jenny's hands in his. "Is this not the same Louisa Kerrington who started the rumor that I was actually fathered by the assassin Jesse James?"
"I know that Louisa has stretched the truth a bit in the past, but this time I believe her! She said that even the papers are taking notice, that the society pages have written about you and Beatrice becoming engaged. She told me that you were even seen in the engagement ring department at Tiffany's!" Jenny took her hands from Eddie's. "How can you say it is not true? You were seen there!"
Eddie sighed and shook his head. "Jenny…it is true that I was at Tiffany the other day, and that I was in the engagement ring department…" Jenny let out a cry of exasperation and put her hand to the carriage's door handle, fully ready to have the driver let her out right then. But Eddie stopped her, his hands firmly placed on her shoulders, sitting her back down. "Listen to me, Jenny! I was there, but not because of what you think! My mother lost her engagement ring, the one my father gave her so many years ago. We were searching for a similar one at Tiffany's, hoping that he would not notice the difference. Believe me, Jen. If I were about to propose to Beatrice, you would know. You would know very first."
Jenny's eyes filled with tears of relief and happiness. "Oh Eddie… are you being completely truthful with me?"
Eddie nodded seriously. "When have I not been?" His brown eyes softened and he took Jenny into his arms, cradling her as tears streamed down her face. To Jenny, it felt like the most comfortable place in the world. In his arms, Jenny felt as if everything were perfect, and that everything would be alright.
"But," Eddie said regretfully. "I have to tell you now, Jenny, that I cannot wait much longer for you."
Jenny sat up, frowning. "What do you mean?"
"I mean," Eddie said, wiping tears from Jenny's face, "that I am twenty years old. I am my mother's only son. She wants me to be married in the worst way, and I agree that I should be married soon. Of course there is only one woman I want to marry—there has always only been one girl—and she is you. But you are married to Kimber and unless something happens to the pair of you…" Eddie frowned but shrugged. "In that case, I will have to marry someone else. And there is a good chance that it could be Beatrice, or Sophie or one of those type of girls that we grew up with. I cannot do anything about it, Jenny. You are the only one who can change anything."
Jenny shook her head. "Are you telling me to divorce Kimber?"
"I am not telling you to do anything," Eddie declared. "Jenny, I am not sure that anyone can make you do something you do not want to. But just know that I cannot wait around forever. I cannot be the other man in your life. And," he affirmed, "I cannot stay around you when I know that he is treating you badly."
Jenny glanced up, worried.
"I know that you two are having serious problems," Eddie said softly, putting a palm to Jenny's face. "I heard you arguing before I came into the parlor today. I heard sounds of a struggle. Your butler announced me just in time, I fear I would have ran into the room and hurt Kimber right then and there for laying a harsh hand on you. And that is not all I know, Jenny. Your brother and I had drinks a few weeks ago, and he ran his mouth a bit about yours and Kimber's problems. I have heard snippets from Mrs. Cartwright and even your friend Louisa Kerrington, though she is a sour source. People know things, Jenny. It would not be such a shock if you and Kimber divorced."
"I… I just do not know if I can, Eddie. My mother always told me how badly society looks down on divorced women… it is the worst kind of woman to be in our world. I do not want to be a disappointment to my mother."
"You would not be if you married me!" Eddie cried. "Your mother loved me like another son. She wanted you to marry me. She would be looking down and smiling. And Jenny…I would marry you if you divorced Kimber. I would marry you in a second, without thinking twice. But this is not about me or your mother or any of society. It is about you. What do you want, Jenny?"
"I think you already know the answer, Eddie," Jenny said, hardly able to get her words out. "I want you. I want us to work."
Eddie grinned and leaned in to kiss her. "I love you," he murmured into her hair. "But you already know that. Jen," he pulled back to look at her directly in the eyes. "We can make this work. We can. You do not have to do anything tonight or next week or even the next… just as long as I know there is something in the future for us, I will wait and be patient. I promise."
Just then, the carriage rolled up to Jenny and Kimber's townhouse. Eddie straightened to go let her out of the carriage, but Jenny stopped him. "No. I should go in alone, in case he is there. But thank you."
Eddie nodded and leaned back into his seat. "You will remember what I told you?"
"Of course," Jenny smiled. After hesitating for a short moment, she then gently leaned in and kissed Eddie on the lips, lingering for just a moment. "Maybe I will see you tomorrow?"
Eddie smiled and nodded. "You can count on it. I can take you to see my little brother's baseball game at the park. Would you like that?"
"I would love that. And then maybe we can talk more about… this." Jenny gave Eddie one last smile before stepping out of his carriage and climbing the stairs to her own townhouse's door, where Bentley let her in.
When Jenny entered the doorway, she immediately noticed that the house was strangely lit for it being so late in the evening. The gas lamps throughout the front corridor and stairway glowed hazily, illuminating the burgundy painted walls and the ornate carpeting. Jenny frowned as she handed Bentley her cloak and gloves. "What is going on?" she asked aloud, though she was really speaking to herself.
"Jenny, is that you?" came a call from the other room.
Jenny sighed miserably and called back, "Kimber?"
Kimber came from the parlor at a startling speed, and with such a look of concern in his eyes that Jenny immediately thought something was wrong. But instead of bearing any bad news, Kimber came right up to his wife and pulled her into the tightest embrace they had shared in a long time.
"Kimber?" Jenny asked, her face buried in his shoulder. He still had his coat on. "Kimber, what is going on?"
"I should be asking the same of you, Jen," Kimber said, pulling away, looking extremely relieved. "When I came home tonight after our fight and you were gone… Jen, I thought you had left me. I was so scared. I went over to the Cartwright house to see if you had been over there; I even went to see Mrs. Epstein, asking if she had seen you. For God's sake, I drove up to your brother's house, wondering if I would find you there. I was so scared that I would not find you, Jenny. Do not ever do that to me again, alright?" He pulled her close once again. Jenny could feel him trembling.
"Alright," Jenny heard herself murmuring, but she knew Kimber could hear the uncertainty in her voice.
Kimber pulled back and took Jenny's face in his big hands, the ones that had treated her harshly just a few hours ago. "Jenny Seymour, listen to me. I promise on my life that I will never, ever, hurt you again, especially not physically like I did earlier. There are no excuses I can make for my mistakes… but I can promise you that I will be better. I do not know what I would do if you were to ever leave me. I promise you, Jenny, that I will never hurt you, or our family again. You and I are in for this together, no matter how rough the road gets. I am ready to make our relationship work, really work. Are you willing to try to make it work, too?"
Jenny swallowed. Thinking of Eddie, with his heart-warming brown eyes and his neat curls, with his soft voice and playful laugh, with his dear words and his sincere promises… Jenny knew she could only say one thing.
"Yes, Kimber," Jenny said with a tight grimace and a sharp pain in her heart. "I promise I will try to make this work."
As Kimber pulled her tight once again, Jenny began to wonder which bond was more important—the one to Eddie, or the one to her mother, who Jenny had once promised that she would never let her reputation stray in the wrong way, no matter where her thoughts would.