Bertha knelt and helped Cora into the brocade shoes with Louis heels and upturned toes. Cora began to wobble.
"I can"t wear these, Bertha, I will fall over. Get the bronze slippers instead."
"If you"re sure, Miss Cora " Bertha said cautiously.
"My mother is expecting eight hundred people tonight," Cora said. "I doubt she will have time to inspect my feet. Get the slippers."
But Cora"s words were braver than she felt; both girls knew that the Madam never missed anything.
Mrs Cash was making one last survey of her costume. Her neck and ears were still bare, not through austerity on her part but because she knew that any minute her husband would come in with a "little something" which would have to be put on and admired. Winthrop had been spending a lot of time in the city lately, which meant that a "little something" was due. Some of her contemporaries had used their husband"s infidelities as a way of purchasing their freedom, but Mrs Cash, having spent the last five years shaking Cash"s Finest Flour from her skirts, had no desire to tarnish her hard-won reputation as the most elegant hostess in Newport and Fifth Avenue by something as shabby as divorce. So long as Winthrop was discreet, she was prepared to pretend that she knew nothing of his passion for the opera.
There had been a time once, though, when she had not been so sanguine. In the early days of their marriage she could not bear to let him out of her sight, for fear that he would bestow that same confiding smile on someone else. In those days she would have thought jewels no substitute for Winthrop"s unclouded gaze. But now she had her daughter, her houses and she was the Mrs Cash. She hoped that Winthrop would bring her diamonds this time. They would go well with her costume.
There was a tap at the door and Winthrop Rutherford II came in wearing the satin breeches, brocade waistcoat and powdered wig of Louis XV; the father might have started life as a stable boy but the son was a convincing Bourbon king. Mrs Cash thought with satisfaction that he looked quite distinguished in his costume, not many men could carry off silk stockings; they would be a handsome couple.
Her husband cleared his throat a little nervously. "You look quite magnificent tonight, my dear, no one would think this was the last ball of the season. May I be permitted to add a little something to perfection?"
Mrs Cash moved her head forward as if readying herself for the axe. Winthrop pulled the diamond collar from his pocket and fastened it round her neck.
"You anticipate me, as always. It is indeed a necklace," he said.
"Thank you, Winthrop. Always such taste. I shall wear the earrings you gave me last summer; I think they will make a perfect match." She reached without a moment"s hesitation for one of the morocco leather boxes on the dressing table, leaving Winthrop to wonder, not for the first time, if his wife could read his mind.
The opening bars of the Radetsky March floated up from the terrace. Mrs Cash stood and took her husband"s proffered arm.
"You know, Winthrop, I would like this evening to be remembered."
Cash knew better than to ask what she wanted the evening to be remembered for. She was only interested in one thing: perfection.
The American Heiress. Copyright © 2010 by Daisy Goodwin Productions.
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