Copyright © 2012 Karen Kay
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Lady Genevieve Rohan’s laugh reverberated throughout the parlor, filling the atmosphere with a gaiety that might have been dispelled at once had anyone taken a good look at the young English heiress. While it was true that Genevieve’s brown eyes sparkled, one had only to observe the circles beneath them, the paleness of her skin and the pinched-in quality of her cheeks to know that the lady was distraught.
The facade she presented this cold morning in January, however, could have fooled Satan himself.
Suddenly she grinned. “Why, Mr. Toddman,” she said after a short deliberation, flicking her ever-present fan open and bringing it to her face to hide all but her expressive eyes. “Our manservant informs me that you are here to see me this morning, not my father. I am flattered by your attention, but I am most curious to learn what you have come here to tell me.”
The young man flushed, his gaze not quite able to meet that of the young lady. He cleared his throat and, looking away, brought up a hand to pull at his collar. Finally, he said, “Please excuse me, Lady Genevieve, if it seems improper to you. It is only that I must see you urgently. There are some matters that have come to my attention, and I feel it only right to ask you about these things now. After all, there is no need for me to carry tales to your father—nor to mine.”
Genevieve smiled, while impishly she peeped out over her fan. “You are thinking of carrying tales? And what matters are these that have you in such a dither this fine morning?” she inquired.
The young man hesitated. He pulled at his collar yet again, making a face this time as he made to stretch his neck. At last, though, he said, “I have been to the bank this morning, and I have discovered that the management there is under the misapprehension that you are now in charge of your father’s finances.”
“Ah, I see.”
“Do you? Jolly good, then. Well, you would certainly understand that I would appreciate your every expediency in clearing up this matter with the bank. Why, I came away from that institution this morning with nothing more to show for my efforts than empty pockets, and this after I have done so much for your father’s project.”
“Yes,” she said, “I can understand your confusion. It is your project, too, is it not?”
“Well, certainly.” He cleared his throat. “Yes, by Jove, of course it is. It is only—”
“Then you were able to procure that which we need?”
“That which we—” Noncomprehension turned to quick understanding as the young man’s coloring went from pale to a deep crimson. He looked away. “Oh,” he said. “You mean the Indian.”
The young man shrugged his shoulders and smiled. “All in good time, Lady Genevieve, all in good time. You should not be worrying about such things. I have the matter well in hand.”
Genevieve scrutinized the young man sitting before her, her gaze direct, forthright. She sighed. At length, she drew her silky fan closed, and setting it in her lap, she said, “Mr. Toddman, you do realize that my father’s work is due in no more than a year’s time?”
Again the young man shrugged. “Yes?”
“Then you must also realize that my father needs a considerable amount of leisure in which to outline all of his facts so that he can consolidate and categorize all that we have learned here.”
“I fail to see—”
“There is only one tribe of Indians that we have not yet studied, and only that one tribe remains before my father can assimilate his notes and begin work on his thesis of the Native American culture. It is this singular fact alone that keeps us from realizing my father’s accomplishments. And, sir, it is my understanding that it has been your duty to procure this Indian. I believe you have had access to my father’s account in order to finance such an expedition.”
The young assistant shrugged.
“Mr. Toddman, my father still has no Indian from this infamous tribe to complete his studies.”
“It is not so easy as it would appear.”
“Yes, I do realize that. So my father has told me. It is why he has allowed you such a free hand with our account. But it also came to my attention the other day that our money in that account has been dwindling at an incredible rate. And while this might be expected on such an expedition as ours, there is nothing here at the moment to show for such expenditures of funds.”
“Nothing to show for it?”
She nodded. “The project remains unfinished.”
The young assistant came to his feet, and, presenting his back to Genevieve, he paced toward the fireplace, which stood at the opposite end of the room. At last, he turned to stare back at the lady. He shook his head. “How can you say such a thing? There is more than enough here to account for all the exchange of funds.”
“Mr. Toddman, the work is not—”
“And after all I’ve done for you. Did I not produce all the Indians you desired? Wasn’t it I who introduced you to William Clark, who is now Superintendent of Indian Affairs? Wasn’t it I who brought you delegates from the Sioux Nation, from the Omaha, the Cheyenne? How about the girl who was sent here from the Arapaho? Why, I even managed to bring you someone from the Crow and Pawnee tribes, and all this despite the fact that we were supposed to go and visit these tribes, not have them sent to us. And now you—”
“My father needs a representative from this last tribe to complete his studies. That’s all. You know this—probably better than I do. And, Mr. Toddman, we had all three of us agreed to study Indian tribal languages this way. We had all decided this would be more efficient. It wasn’t just me and my father. You know this. Why are you arguing about this with me?”
“I am not debating the point with you, Lady Genevieve. But don’t you see? Your father doesn’t need this tribe of Indians. He could complete his work without procuring one more tribe. He has more than enough material to finish it now.”
Genevieve sighed. She closed her eyes for a moment, looking as though she wished she were somewhere else, or failing this, that there might, at least, be someone else she could trust to handle this particular subject…and this man.
But realizing, perhaps, that there was no one else, she breathed out deeply and, opening her eyes, carefully studied the man before her. “Mr. Toddman,” she began, “if you feel my father has enough material for his studies now, why have you spent over twenty thousand American dollars these past few months trying to obtain a representative from this last remaining tribe?”
“Your father wanted this—” the young man uttered quickly before he halted, his gaze coming up to catch the lady’s glance. Quickly, though, he looked away as he croaked, “You know…?”
She cleared her throat. “Yes, I know all about it, Mr. Toddman. But what I do not understand is, if you felt so deeply about the manner in which we were going about this, why did you not just talk to my father and let him be done with it?”
The assistant paused. He opened his lips to speak, but when no words came, he closed his mouth. Several minutes ticked by before he tried again. At last he said, “I have had other matters that required my attention.”
Genevieve looked away. “Yes,” she said. “I know. Solicitors have brought me notice that there are many gambling debts that you owe. I had to pay one just last week.” She sighed. “Please understand, Mr. Toddman, that while I know my father has condoned such behavior from you, I cannot. Not when our funds are so low.”
The young man twisted around to confront the lady. It took him a moment before he could utter, “What are you saying?”
Genevieve looked up toward the ceiling. “It is not the bank that has made the error, Mr. Toddman.” She drew a deep breath. “It is I who put a stop to your drawing funds from the account. I know it will be an inconvenience to you, but until we complete our studies here, we can no longer afford the luxury of the gaming tables. I would have told you earlier; it’s only that—”
“How dare you!” The assistant started forward, stopped; then, in a flurry of agitated pacing, he threw up his hands. “You have no right!” he snarled. “Why, my father is helping to finance this project, too.”
“Yes, I know, but—”
“He did not give you leave to stop my financing, I am certain.”
“Mr. Toddman, I—”
“The money is not yours.”
“Yes, I know, Mr. Toddman, but my father—”
“This has nothing to do with your father, and you know it. This is your decision, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” she said. “It is. And until my father recovers and is able to deal with these matters himself, you will have to settle them with me.”
“Oh, you think so?” he asked, his words almost a sneer. All at once he stopped his striding and, almost too quietly, said, “I will send word to my own father in England about this, and then we will see with whom I will deal.”
Genevieve lifted her chin. “That will make little difference to our situation.”
“We shall see.”
“Mr. Toddman, both your father and mine are enamored with this project, and you know it. Neither of them wants this study sabotaged, and that is exactly what you are doing by continuing to visit the gaming tables. At the rate you are losing money, there would soon be no further funds available to finish this project.”
It was here that Mr. Toddman, sixth son of the Earl of Tygate, drew himself to his full height. One would have thought that the man had been physically injured, so great was the air of his distress. At length, however, he deigned to look down his nose at the lady before him, and in a haughty voice he said, “You dare to criticize me, Lady Genevieve, and yet look at you. You, who must always look the height of fashion. You, who must always appear the proper English lady.”
“Mr. Toddman, I fail to see what—”
“Expense, Lady Genevieve. Expense. You take me to task, yet you reserve for yourself only the best that this godforsaken town has to offer.”
“Mr. Toddman, you are talking about clothes, a necessary expenditure. I am speaking of gambling, a habit in which only the very rich or the extremely lucky can indulge. I fail to see—”
“Only for yourself or your father.” The assistant carried on as though she hadn’t spoken. “Nary a thing for me.”
“Mr. Toddman, you go too far. We are speaking of twenty thousand American dollars, spent by you, for you and nothing to show—”
“That is not true. Why, only yesterday I found another couple of trappers who are not only willing, but who are able to go and capture for us your precious Blackfoot Indian.”
Lady Genevieve paused. There was no denying the lady’s quick look of relief. But it was short-lived. There was something else easily espied in her glance: some emotion, a distrustfulness, perhaps. Or mayhap she was only wary.
Letting out a sigh, she said, “I am so glad to hear this. Did you say you did this only yesterday?”
“And what were the names of these men, that I might go and tell my father?”
The young man hesitated, his face drawn in and his cheeks filling with color. “What difference does that make, Lady Genevieve? Isn’t it enough that I have done it? We will find out more about the two men when they return with your Indian.”
Genevieve hesitated. Clearly, she wanted to believe the man, but still she delayed in speaking for several moments. “Mr. Toddman,” she said, her voice unable to disguise her apprehension. “How much did you have to pay these trappers this time?”
The man shrugged, his hand again coming up to reach for his collar. “Now, Lady Genevieve,” he said, “is that something you should be worrying about?”
“I believe so. As I have already said, since my father has become ill and I have of necessity taken control of the financial matters of the family, I think I should be apprised of exactly how much you paid these men, if only so I can make an adjustment to the account.”
Toddman hesitated, but at her continued regard of him, he uttered, “Five thousand American dollars.”
“Five thousand—” Genevieve stopped, unable to restrain a show of emotion, which revealed itself as a quick flush upon her cheeks. She cleared her throat. “Five thousand American dollars, Mr. Toddman? Such is an exorbitant fee, of which I’m sure you are aware. Were the men you paid surprised that you were willing to part with such a price?”
She tilted back her head. “And of course you paid it all in advance.”
“And you pledge me your word that none of the money went toward the gaming tables?”
“Milady! How dare you!”
She didn’t respond; she just looked at him. “Mr. Toddman,” she said at last, “might I remind you that my father is allowing you to draw on his account only those sums of money that he approves?”
“And you think he did not approve this expenditure?”
“I am fairly certain of it.”
From across the room, the assistant surveyed her for innumerable seconds while Lady Genevieve held his gaze. At length, the young man said, “My father will hear of this at the utmost possible speed, believe me. And when he does…you might find, Lady Genevieve, that you will be in need of revising your opinion of me and my work. You might find,” he said, smirking, “that you will need to come and beg me to help you. And, milady, how I look forward to that day. Until then,” he started forward, “unless you give me further funds, I will stop all my work for you.” He laughed. “And won’t your precious project be in jeopardy then? Go try to engage a trapper or trader without my help, and see for yourself how easy it is.”
“But you said that you had just hired—”
“So I did, Lady Genevieve, so I did. But that was before our little talk. Did you really think I would help you when you refuse to finance me—”
“Mr. Toddman, you go too far! I am not refusing to pay you any wages you are due, only the money that you spend—”
“Without complete financial support, Lady Genevieve,” the assistant straightened his shoulders, “I somehow find myself in the position of being unwilling and perhaps unable to offer any further assistance to this project.” He smiled. “Might I suggest that you go and find your own Indian?”
Genevieve coughed. “Mr. Toddman!”
“Or perhaps,” the young man said as he paused, leering, “mayhap if the trappers do come back with your Blackfoot Indian, I might be the one to interview the savage, and then it will be I who will have the pleasure of finishing this much-needed book.”
“Mr. Toddman,” she said, presenting to the man a demeanor that looked, to all appearances, quite calm. “You cannot do that. You are under contract with my father, and—”
“A contract that you have broken, not I. Can I help it if you choose to let me go?”
“Our meeting is at an end, Lady Genevieve…unless you are willing to renegotiate the bank notice.”
Genevieve looked away. She stared at the wall for innumerable seconds before finally, as though defeated, she uttered, “I cannot.”
The young assistant drew his lips together until they looked more a thin, painted line than mere lips, rife with outright hatred. He said, “Then we have nothing further to discuss, do we, Lady Genevieve? No,” he continued as she made to rise. “I will show myself out.”
And with these parting words, Mr. Toddman propelled himself forward and quickly left the room.
Genevieve glanced over toward the door, her gaze troubled. “Yes?”she asked abstractedly. “What is it, Robert?”
“It’s your father, milady. He—”
“Yes, milady. He’s had a fall. He tried to get up from bed, and—”
“Where is he now?”
“He is back in his bedroom, milady, and I—”
“Summon a doctor at once, Robert.”
“It has been done, milady.”
Genevieve had already risen and was most of the way across the parlor room when she paused mid-stride, looking up toward the domestic who stood beside the entryway. “Thank you, Robert. Bring the doctor upstairs as soon as he arrives.”
“Yes,milady. Will you require anything else?”
“No, Robert, except…” Genevieve took a few more steps toward the hall. She gave the man a shy smile. “Thank you again, Robert. I don’t know what my father and I would do without you. You’re probably the best friend we’ve ever had. I hope you know that we will always appreciate your loyalty to us.”
And to Robert’s “Yes, milady,” Lady Genevieve fled from the room.
“Father, what have you done this time?” Genevieve practically flew across her father’s bedroom to Viscount Rohan’s side. “You know the doctor told you to stay in bed until you are fully healed of this gout.”
She stopped and bent down to place a kiss on the man’s forehead. “If you will only heed the doctor’s advice, it will not be that much longer before you can be up and about, and doing all the things you need to.” She stopped when she noticed that her father had barely even heard her. She glanced downward to find a letter in his hands.
“Blackfeet” was the only word she caught in the letter before her father’s hand fell toward the floor, the paper dropping at the same time.
“What is it this time, Father?” she asked, kneeling down to pick up the letter.
“Blackfeet,” was all he muttered.
Genevieve spared a quick glance upward. Not again. First Mr. Toddman, and now her father. Was there to be no end to the problems this tribe presented them?
“The Blackfeet again, Father? What has happened now?”
Her father didn’t answer, and Genevieve darted a quick look at the viscount.
He made no response.
She sighed. How could one ignorant and savage tribe cause them such havoc?
“Father,” she said, “I know the Blackfoot Indians have caused us some problems, and believe me, I am aware of the difficulty you face. I, too, have heard the legends of these people. I’ve listened to the stories the trappers tell of them; I’ve heard of how no one can go into Blackfoot country and live to tell of it, of how this tribe guards their territory so well that only the foolhardy will venture into their realm. How could I not? It’s all anyone ever talks of, if I so much as even hint at their name. But really, Father, we have to come to terms with them if ever we are to finish this project.”
Her father hadn’t heard a word. He just stared away from her, the paleness of his face, the dejection in his manner, a testimony to his distress.
She frowned. “Father?”
Still, he didn’t answer.
What were they going to do about the Blackfeet? They needed a study of them, and yet…
“Is it possible that we could finish your manuscript without an account of this tribe?” she asked. “Especially since the Blackfeet appear to be more savage than the rest? Oh, I’ve heard the whole story, of course: that the trouble with the Blackfeet originally started when the Lewis and Clark expedition ventured into their territory, killing two tribe members. But the killings had all been done in self-defense. Everyone knows that. Surely the Blackfeet wouldn’t hold a man guilty for defending himself, would they?”
Or would they? It was a common fact that from that incident forward, the Blackfeet had vowed to kill any further intruders into their land.
Genevieve glanced at her father. He still stared straight ahead of him.
She grimaced. “It’s hard to believe,” she spoke to her father quietly, taking his hand in her own. “The incident with Lewis and Clark took place almost thirty years ago. What sort of people would harbor a grudge for thirty long years?
“Is it possible, Father, that your publishers might extend your deadline? There has been a fort close by to their country now for three years. Why, even last week I read something about a steamship that will be sailing soon on a voyage up the Missouri River to that outpost. I think it’s called Fort Union. Surely no land will remain savage for long, or a people continue to be so antagonistic when there are a great many civilizing influences coming into it. If we could only have more time.”
She closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath.
That was the problem. They had little time left to complete this project. And with her father ill and Mr. Toddman in rebellion, she was afraid the bulk of responsibility for the project was now going to fall upon her.
Was she up to handling it?
Was it possible that she, a mere woman, could succeed in seeing the manuscript finished when the men in her life had so far failed?
“Yes, Father?” She opened her eyes.
“Did you read the letter?” Viscount Rohan gripped her hands as she leaned over him.
“No, Father, not yet. But I—”
“Read it, then…oh,” he said, as Genevieve picked up the paper, “never mind.” He glanced at the ceiling. “It doesn’t make any difference now. It’s impossible, I tell you. Can’t get the bloody Blackfeet here. Can’t go to them. But I need to, Genny; I must…or else…”
“Look at the letter. It’s from the publisher. They won’t even consider the project finished without a study of every major American tribe. And they specifically include the Blackfeet. But that’s not all. Oh, Genny, what can I do but get out of bed? I must go there, and I must leave here at once.”
As the viscount made to get up, Genny gently pushed him back onto the pillows. “You’ll not be going anywhere. Not until the doctor says you’re able.”
Viscount Rohan flopped back against the bed. “Oh, what am I to do? What am I to do?”
“It may not be as bad as you think. I just this morning had a talk with Mr. Toddman, and he believes it might yet be possible to get someone from the tribe to come here. He’s hired another couple of trappers.”
“Won’t do any good.”
Genevieve frowned. “What do you mean? Isn’t that what we’ve been trying to do these past few months?”
“Read the letter, Genny. Read the letter.”
“Yes, Father, but I…” Her voice trailed off, her gaze already skimming the paper in her hand. “I don’t see what—” She sucked in her breath, barely managing to keep her grasp on the letter. “Oh my…how can this be? It’s not possible.”
“It’s what I would have thought too, Genny, but as you can see, it’s already happening.”
“I don’t understand. I thought Mr. Catlin was merely painting the Indians’ portraits…”
“It happens all the time. Haven’t you noticed how, the moment you get a project in mind, you have to act on it right away or someone else steals it from you?”
“No, I haven’t…well, perhaps—”
“And without so much as talking to you about it?”
“Someone has to go there, Genny. There’s no longer time to hire another to do it.” He sighed and glanced over toward the window. “You’d best bring young William Toddman to me, Genny. It’s the only way now.”
“I don’t understand. How can this be?”
Her father didn’t answer, and his lack of response told her, more than anything, that the situation of which she read was, indeed, just this serious.
“Father,” she said, “it still states here that George Catlin is merely painting Indian portraits. He is not doing an anthropological study as we are. Surely that’s not truly competition. Our projects are worlds apart. They can’t drop our studies just because someone else is interested in doing something similar to ours. It’s not done. It’s…”
“The publishers haven’t stopped their support. But with Catlin actually visiting the Indians in their own country and painting their portraits, we stand to lose our project. We aren’t holding as strong a position as we once did. We haven’t been there. He has—he is.”
“Still,” she said, “it can’t be as bad as it seems. Catlin is, after all, American, and your publishers are English. Perhaps we should talk to Mr. Catlin and see if we can collaborate on this project, since we are both interested in the same thing. Maybe we could persuade Mr. Catlin to publish his works with ours. It’s possible. And if, after we talk to him, we still can’t… Well, Father, you have nothing to fear. Our publisher is English…English. Now, I ask you, would an Englishman take an American’s story over one of his own? Really, Father.”
The viscount sighed, leaning his head back against the pillows and closing his eyes. A long moment followed, the silence between father and daughter somehow echoing their mutual distress. At length, Viscount Rohan opened his eyes, staring out the window as though something of great interest lay just outside. He said, “There’s more to it, Genny. I made a foolish mistake. I admit it now. Wish I could take it back…can’t. Too bloody cocky, I was.” He shook his head. “But it’s too late now, much too late, and I…I’m so sorry, Genny.”
Genevieve took her father’s hand in her own. “Don’t worry, Father. We’ll find a way out of this. Haven’t we always done so in the past?”
“Not this time, Genny. Not this time. Too much at stake.” He gritted his teeth. “How could I have been so stupid?”
“It’s not so bad. It’s not as though all of our wealth is tied into this project. We still have our home, our lands. In truth, though I want this project to succeed as much as you do, what would be the worst thing that could happen if it didn’t? We’d go back to England, find some other project, and off we would go once again. Oh, I know your reputation would suffer because of it, but really, Father, such a thing is so easily remedied. Perhaps we could study the Indians of South America and their languages instead.”
“Oh, Genny, no. It’s worse than that. Should have told you, I guess. Didn’t think I’d ever have to. Too damned arrogant for my own good is what I was.”
“And with full, good reason.” She smiled. “After all, you are England’s leading—”
“Genny, no.” He withdrew his hand from her own. “It’s more complicated than that. I’ve done something I haven’t told you. Something that will make you hate me. Something—”
The viscount shook his head. “Listen to me. I must tell you this now. I should never have withheld this from you. It’s just that…I never dreamed I would get so ill. How could I have known?”
“Exactly, Father. Whatever it is, we’ll see our way through it.”
He breathed in deeply. “I don’t know, Genny. I fear… It happened back in England, a few weeks before we were to set sail…”
“Before we…? What are you talking about, Father? What happened?”
“He came to me late one night.”
She shook her head. “He? Who is he?”
“The Duke of Starksboro.”
“The Duke of Starks—” Genevieve paused, a wave of foreboding coming over her. “Father,” she began, “why would you even see the man? I don’t care if he is a duke. He has meant you nothing but the utmost harm ever since you beat him to that African project so many years ago. Plus, he is the most terrific bore when it comes to this sort of work—thinks he knows all about it while he displays his utter stupidity. Why, do you know that he told me that he thought the American Indian was no more human than the ape? That it was pointless to study such a person? There’s something quite evil about the man, Father. I think you should have no further contact with him.”
He sighed. “I have to, Genny.”
Her stomach dropped. She raised her gaze to his. “Have to?”
He slowly nodded. “And so do you.”
“Stop it! How can you say such a thing?”
The Viscount Rohan closed his eyes, a gloom appearing to descend upon him that had nothing to do with health, or the lack of it. “Should have told you sooner.”
“Told me what, Father?”
He swallowed, a noisy affair, set off as it was against the silence in the room. “I made a bet with the man.”
Genevieve sucked in her breath.
“I know, I know,” he said as though she had spoken. “I just couldn’t suffer his gloating any further.”
“Bet him is what I did,” he continued. “Bet him that the Indians were human, real people. Bet him I’d bring back evidence of their civilization, of their intelligence. I wagered all that we have, Genny. Everything. Our home, our land. And something more.”
He paused, and Genevieve, squaring back her shoulders, sat up straighter in her chair. She thrust out her chin, trying to ignore the feeling of dread settling over her.
“You have to understand, Genny,” Viscount Rohan went on. “I didn’t see how I could fail. It was such a fantastic bet to make, and so easy to win. Or so it seemed. Of course these Indians are people. Of course they have their own civilization. How could I fail? And he had challenged me with double what the publishers are paying me, plus he threw in a good-sized portion of his land as well. How could I resist? Or more importantly, how could I lose?”
Genevieve looked at her hands in her lap. “I understand. What else did you bet him, Father?”
The older man sank back farther into the pillows, if that were possible. “I gambled…” He paused. “Genny, please try to understand.”
She cleared her throat. “What else did you bet?”
Viscount Rohan squeezed his eyes shut. At last, he muttered, “My work, Genny.”
“Your work? I don’t understand. I… How could you—”
“I…I gave the duke my word of honor that if I fail, I will quit doing these studies on my own. I promised that I would work only for him—”
“But I promised this only if I fail, Genny. And it just didn’t seem possible at the time that I couldn’t manage this simple project.”
Genevieve Rohan sat in silence for a short while, her gaze focused downward. At last, though, without lifting her head, she said, “Perhaps there is still a way out of it. You could always put your work in my name. I haven’t—”
“Won’t work, Genny.”
“You’re a woman.”
“What does that have to do with it? I’m your daughter. I have seen other women carry on in the names of their fathers.”
“That’s just the point, Genny: in the names of their fathers. Besides, the duke must have anticipated this. He made me promise him your work too.”
“But look at what I had to win.”
She sat still, her mind in a whirl, though conversely, she couldn’t seem to think at all. Suddenly, she frowned and looked up. “We have very little time, then, don’t we? Perhaps you had best forget the Blackfoot Indians and the studies of their culture and language. If we begin work right now, we have barely enough time to catalogue and put onto paper all we have learned. Perhaps it is best, then, if we set sail back to England at once.”
Her father slumped his shoulders, his head down. “I can’t, Genny,” he said. “Youread the letter. Without a study of that tribe, I can’t even begin to submit the manuscript for publication, especially not now that Catlin is making ready for a trip into Blackfoot country himself.”
Silence. “I see,” Genevieve said at last, although she wasn’t certain that she did. She scowled. “Father, I’m not quite sure that I understand. How does your finished manuscript fit into this? Did you merely bet the duke that the Indians were people, or does this somehow relate to the finished work of this project?”
He gulped. “To the finished work.”
Genevieve gasped, her breathing becoming more pronounced, more difficult. She said, “Tell me exactly how it is that this wager is based on your work.”
Her father shrugged. “Since I had to finish the project anyway, and you know what an ‘authority’ the duke is on anthropology, I wagered that I would find the Indians with culture, language and a way of life of which to be proud, each and every tribe, and that he could use the completed work as his proof.”
She nodded her head. “I see. And there is only this Blackfoot tribe left to study, and then the whole project is finished—at least from a research standpoint?”
“And you have all your notes and observations already written about the other tribes?”
“Are you sure this Blackfoot band is the only major tribe left for you to study?”
She rose slowly, pushing down at the material of her skirts as she did so. Her hands shook, and she found herself unable to meet her father’s gaze. At length, though, she said, “I will have to think about this, Father. It seems as though we are in an unsolvable dilemma. I will have to see if there is some way for us to resolve this. In the meantime, I would not rely on William Toddman for any more of your projects. There is something wrong with the man, more than just his wasteful gambling, but I can’t quite ascertain what exactly. While it’s true that he has spent most of our money at the gaming tables, I fear there is something undisclosed that is driving him…something I can’t quite…” She lifted her shoulders slightly. “I do not trust him, Father, and I do not believe you should either… I—”
A knock on the door interrupted her, and a few seconds later, the local doctor stepped into the room.
“Hello, Dr. Gildman,” Genevieve said, extending her hand toward the man. “I’m so glad you were able to come and see my father.” She turned then, and gazing down at the worried countenance of her father, she smiled, even though it was a wary smile at best. “Don’t worry, I’ll think of something. You just concentrate on getting better.” She bent down to press a kiss to her father’s forehead. “I’ll be up to see you tonight, Father. Dr. Gildman,” she acknowledged, and, shifting away from the two men, she quietly left the room.
Stunned. No, that wasn’t quite the word: numb, startled, jolted…that’s how she felt. Genevieve sat in her room some hours later, having not moved from this one spot in all that time. She stared straight ahead of her.
This couldn’t be happening to her…to them. It was all so dramatic—so histrionic. And yet…
How could her safe, secure world have turned stark in such a small amount of time?
Her father was a wealthy man. Surely he hadn’t needed the money the duke offered. So why had he done it? Had the duke pressured him somehow?
The Duke of Starksboro? Why the Duke of Starksboro? The man was old, decrepit and…
A shiver of pure revulsion swept over her. When she thought of the man—
No. She could not let this happen. There was something evil about this, about the duke…
Certainly, the man was her father’s most vocal rival, jealously seeking to acquire the same sort of fame that her father enjoyed—a fame her father rightly deserved, a fame the Duke of Starksboro did not.
It would be different, she admitted, if the duke would take the pains to explore the world, as she and her father did, before commenting upon it. But he did nothing of the sort, seeking instead, time and again, to buy his way into prominence…literally.
And now the duke was trying to do the same thing to her father.
She had to do something about this.
She couldn’t ask her father for help anymore—he was part of the problem. And Mr. Toddman? Out of the question.
She puzzled over it. What they needed was a Blackfoot Indian. One mere Blackfoot Indian.
What they really needed, what she really needed, was to ask someone she trusted to go into Blackfoot country, to go there and make notes on the habits and customs of the people, then to come back.
They had already tried to hire men to do it. For ten long months, she and her father had been trying to do this.
Certainly they had found people to hire. But those men had disappeared, along with the money paid to them, never to be heard from again.
Besides, she had several times talked with the trappers and traders in this area. Most could barely even speak proper English. What made her think such men could write it?
Perhaps if she appealed to Mr. Catlin himself?
She groaned. George Catlin had his own people supporting him—and one of those people had gone to a rival publishing house with news of Mr. Catlin’s project.
Kind though she knew Mr. Catlin to be, she doubted he would be willing to give her father the necessary information to finish his book. Although—
An idea took hold within her. Her head came up, and suddenly she swung her weight up onto her feet.
She began to pace back and forth, over and over, finally padding over toward her window.
She touched the cold pane of the window there as she stared unseeingly out into the garden, whitewashed now with snow. Her moist breath, shown at first as a fog on the glass, began to crystallize even as she watched it, and suddenly an idea materialized before her. All at once, she knew what she had to do.
It was a whim, a flimsy, stupid idea, most likely impossible…and yet this might be her only chance. Their only chance.
She would go.
That a steamship was traveling there soon made it all the more imperative that she leave. It was almost as though she were destined to go there.
True, she might be a novice at survival along the frontier, and certainly she held a healthy respect for her own life, but what sort of life would it be if she and her father failed at this project?
She would rather die than return to England defeated, there to lose reputation and, worse, to have to cater to the Duke of Starksboro.
She shuddered. Yes, she knew what she had to do.
Turning, she stepped toward her door to ring for their servant, Robert.
Robert would help her. Of this she was confident. In fact, she was counting on it.