The Duchesss Tattoo

The Duchesss Tattoo by Daisy Goodwin Read Free Book Online

Book: The Duchesss Tattoo by Daisy Goodwin Read Free Book Online
Authors: Daisy Goodwin
    â€˜Much too late for a dance. They all went ages ago. But I guess I might need to catch my breath after a while. Maybe around here?’ She pointed to a waltz on her dance card with her little ivory pencil. ‘We could meet on the terrace.’ Her eyes flickered towards where her mother was standing in majesty. Teddy understood the look – Cora did not want her mother to see them together.
    Did Mrs Cash think he was a fortune-hunter then? He shuddered to think how horrified his mother would be if she imagined that he was making advances to Cora Cash. Mrs Van Der Leyden might attend a ball given by Mrs Cash but that did not mean she saw Cora as a suitable wife for her son, no matter how rich she was. They had never spoken about it but Teddy sensed that his mother thought that his desire to go to Europe and paint was the lesser of two evils.

    In the winter garden, Simmons the butler was inspecting the supper tables. Down the length of each one ran a stream contained in a silver channel, agitated by tiny pumps so that it sparkled with an effervescent current. At the bottom of the stream was pure white sand and Bertha was pushing stones into the sand to look like submerged boulders. Each of these boulders was in fact an uncut gem – diamonds, rubies, emeralds and topazes. Beside each place setting was a miniature silver shovel so that the guests could ‘prospect’ for these treasures. Bertha had been told by the butler to make sure that the ‘boulders’ were distributed evenly. Despite the enormous wealth of many of the guests, there would be fierce competition among the ‘prospectors’ to amass the most rocks. There had been an unseemly scramble for the Fabergé bonbons at the Astor ball the week before.
    Bertha pushed sand artfully around a ‘boulder’ so that a crystalline spar just punctured the surface. Simmons had told her not to make them too easy to find. He was meant to do this task himself but Bertha knew he felt it beneath him. He hadn’t told her what the rocks were but Bertha well understood their value. She would wait until they got to the end of the last table before taking one. Supper was to start at midnight when Mrs Cash would go on to the terrace to light up her costume and lead her guests into the winter garden like a star. At the same time the hummingbirds would be released to create the illusion that the guests were entering the tropics. Bertha reckoned that Simmons would be so involved in ministering to this procession that he would hardly notice a missing gem.

    Teddy waited for Cora on the terrace. It was a hot, still night. He could hear a cicada somewhere near his feet. An orange moon lit up the pale stone surrounding him. The slabs of marble covering the terrace were not smooth but had been worn into grooves by generations of feet. The entire terrace must have been brought over from some Tuscan villa, reflected Teddy, so that the Nine Muses who stood on the balustrade would not look their age. He could only admire Mrs Cash’s thoroughness. Nothing, in her world, was left to chance. And yet here was Cora, screwing up her eyes to find him on the terrace, unchaperoned and uncaring. He knew from the way that Mrs Cash had pedalled after them yesterday when they had pulled ahead of the cycling party, her marble complexion turning quite pink, that she would not approve of her daughter being here. He knew, too, that he should not be alone with Cora, she was not part of the future he had decided on, yet here he was.
    As she walked towards him through the apricot-hued pools of light cast by the Chinese silk lanterns hanging in the trees, he could see a red filigree dappling her collarbone and throat. She stopped before him, the panniers of her skirt making it impossible for her to stand anywhere but straight in front of him. He could see a faint prickling of flesh on her forearms that made the soft golden hairs stand up like fur. There was, he

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