Sidewalk of New York: Chapter 2

On a mild day in mid October, a carriage pulled up in front of a mansion on Fifth Avenue, an imposing expensnse of cream colored stone taking up almost a whole city block with an elaborate and elegant façade of moldings and carvings and French windows.
The carriage belonged to a Mr. Joseph Ackerman, who was the first to step out. Ackerman, tall, distinguished looking, and silver haired, gallantly extended his hand to help a young lady out of the carriage. The young lady was dainty and pretty, with a round, fair face and curling reddish brown hair and dressed in a green traveling cape.
Next out were two young men, both tall, fair, and handsome. The younger of the two look the young lady’s arm.
The group walked through a rounded alcove in the façade of the mansion and through a doorway decorated with stain glass into a large front room with a black and white checkered floor and mahogany paneling. Standing below the stain glass ceiling dome was the household staff come to greet their master on his return home.
Down the stairs came Mrs Ackerman, a statuesque, dark haired former society beauty. Behind her was Natalie, his niece. Ackerman kissed his wife and then his niece and addressed the staff, introducing the three new arrivals. The young lady was Mrs. Ackerman’s niece, the Countess of St. Oswald, Abigail Barrow of Louisiana that was. The young men were Abigail’s husband Francis Beaumont, Earl of St. Oswald and Gregory Chenoweth, Viscount Allan, his cousin.
Ackerman noticed that one person was missing from his home coming. He whispered into Natalie’s ear to go fetch her cousin. Natalie ascended the stairs to go to one of the private rooms; a small, rectangular room in the back of the house.
The room’s stucco walls were a bluish-green and painted with flowers and vines. The long windows were partially covered by floral print curtains. Two white satin upholstered sofas sat on either side of the room with a Persian rug and a floral brocade ottoman were placed in the middle. Sitting in the sofa facing the windows was a statesque girl of about twenty with a head of thick, glossy, dark curls and a round face with exotic almond shaped blue eyes and full carmine lips, a delicate lily and rose complexion, and a dainty upturned nose.
“Lucy, your father’s back” Natalie said to the older girl.
The girl put down her embroidery and joined Natalie to go downstairs to greet Mr. Ackerman.
“My Lucy” Ackerman said to the girl when she came down the stairs. He went up to her and tenderly kissed her on the forehead. Lucy smiled.
“How was your trip, father?” She asked.
“Long and tedious”
“Lucy, you remember your cousin, the Countess of St. Oswald” Mrs. Ackerman joined in.
“But here I’m just cousin Abigail” the young countess added with the twang of Louisiana still in her voice.
“My bride was homesick for her native land” Lord St. Oswald said “so we sailed over from Shanghai and landed in San Francisco where Ackerman met us. And we brought a friend of ours along with us. Gregory, this is Miss Lucy Ackerman”
Lord Allan was stunned by Lucy’s beauty and made a gallant bow.
“Pleased to meet you, My Lord” Lucy answered.
“The pleasure is mine, Miss Ackerman” Lord Allan said.
Ackerman then said to Wade, the butler, that they would have tea in the Autumn Drawingroom.
“I don’t think you’ve met my niece, Natalie, my late sister Mary’s child,” he then said to his guests.
Natalie stepped foreward and gave a slight curtsy.
“She has just returned from school in Boston.”
“How are you adjusting to the outside world?” Lady St. Oswald asked.
“Fine,” Natalie answered.
“I’ve told her to watch and listen,” added Mrs. Ackerman “and be quiet, except when spoken to”.
Lucy took her cousin’s hands in hers.
“We’ll have to see what we can divise your amusement,” she told her.
Wade then returned to announced that tea was being served in the autumn drawing room and the company ajourned to take refreshment.
The autumn drawing room looked out over onto the avenue. Several trees grew outside whose leaves were fiery with their autumn hues and blurs of red, orange, yellow, and brown could be seen through the lace curtains. These shades of autumn were reflected in the yellow peacock feather wallpaper, and the colors of the Japanese screens and Gobelain tapestries and complimented by cream and olive of the furniture’s upholstery.
The stately grandfather clock climbed five of the clock.
The tea things and a tray of pastries were set upon the dark wood table in the center of the room. Everyone took what refreshment they wished while Natalie was seated at the baby grand accompanying Lucy, who was singing an air of Gilbert and Sullivan’s, which she was practicing for an upcoming concert.
“The sun, whose rays
Are all ablaze
With ever-living glory,
Does not deny
His majesty–
He scorns to tell a story!
He won’t exclaim,
“I blush for shame,
So kindly be indulgent.”
But, fierce and bold,
In fiery gold,
He glories all effulgent!”
“A nightingale” Lord Allan said to himself.
Natalie was distracted from her playing by a noise coming from outside. She got up from the piano and went over to the window.
“There’s a carriage pulling up out front” she said aloud, “Were we expecting anyone else?”
“Not that I was aware of” Mrs. Ackerman answered.
Out of the carriage stepped a smartly dressed young woman. She had a petite, slender, and active figure with soft puffs of golden hair peaking out from under her hat.
The young woman walked from the curb to the front door and lightly knocked. Wade opened the door for her and she handed him a calling card she had pulled out of her handbag.
“Tell them Miss Barrow has arrived” she said to the butler.
“Right away, Miss” Wade answered.
Wade walked upstairs to the Autumn Drawing Room and tactfully approached Mrs. Ackerman and presented her with the calling card.
“Miss Josephine Barrow” Mrs. Ackerman red aloud. She then told Wade to let the young woman in.
Miss Barrow glided into the drawing room and went straight for Mrs. Ackerman, whom she kissed on the cheek.
“It’s wonderful to see you, Aunt Ackerman” she said with a thick Louisiana twang.
“Likewise, my dear,” Mrs. Ackerman answered, giving Miss Barrow a colder version of the kiss she had been given.
Miss Barrow then settled herself next to Lucy and Natalie who had moved from the piano to one of the sofas. Seated in an adjacent armchair was Lady St. Oswald. Miss Barrow turned and gave her a wining smile.
“Always a pleasure, Cousin Abigail,” she said to the countess.
Lady St. Oswald for a moment looked like her heart had stopped. Her devoted husband, the Earl, turned and looked at her.
“Something bothering you, Abby?” He asked her.
“No, no, I’m just tired from the trip. I’d like to go to the hotel and rest. I want to see my son.”
She rested her head on her husband’s shoulder.
“You have a son?” Lucy asked.
Lady St. Oswald seemed to perk up at the question.
“Yes, Lord Francis Henry Charles Arthur Beaumont. A big name for a six month old baby, don’t you think? That’s why we usually call him Frankie.”
“Cousin Abigail,” Miss Barrow asked with genuine concern “are you feeling alright? You look very pale.”
“Yes, yes, I’m fine. I’m just tired from travel.”
Lord St. Oswald extended his arm to help his wife up. He lead her towards the door.
“I hope you feel better”
Later in the evening, Lucy and Natalie sat in their sitting room before going to bed. While Lucy was doing her needle work, Natalie was looking at her stereoscope. She had pulled out slides of San Fransico to see the place her uncle had just come from.
“Did you see the way Lord Allan hung on your every word while you were singing?” She asked her cousin, “he’s already in love with you.”
“Is that so?” Lucy answered.
“He’s so handsome, you’re lucky.”
“Am I?”
“I hope Lady St. Oswald is alright. Traveling really took a number on her”
“Well Shanghai is a long way away from New York.”
Natalie continued looking at slides of Golden Gate Park, Chinatown, and the stately homes of newly rich cattle and oil barons and steal magnates in Nob Hill.
“Who was that Miss Barrow that came today?”
“A cousin of mine on my mother’s side.”
Their conversation was interrupted by someone knocking on the door.
“Come in.”
The door opened and Mr. Ackerman stepped in.
“Hope I’m not disturbing you,” he said.
“Of course not, father.”
“What’s the you’ve got there, Uncle?” Natalie added.
Mr. Ackerman was holding a small velvet box and a wrapped parcel.
“Presents from San Fransico.”
He handed the parcel to Natalie who eagerly unwrapped to reveal a white silk kimono and a pair of red Chinese slippers.
“Thank you,” Natalie said.
“And for Lucy.”
He opened up the velvet box to reveal a stunning pearl necklace.
“It’s beautiful, thank you father.”
Lucy took the necklace out of the box and put it around her neck.
“Natalie, would you please help me with the clasp”
Natalie came over and did the clasp on the necklace, then kissed Lucy and Mr. Ackerman’s cheeks.
“Good night.” She said to them before running off to bed.
Her bedroom was down the hall. It was set up in Lucy’s old nursery and still had a rather babyish light pink wallpaper with a boarder of swans and pink and white stripped curtains on the window and the canopy over the bed.
Natalie fed some breadcrumbs and sunflower seeds from a sack to her lovebirds, Pyramus and Thisbe, and then sat down in front of her vanity.
An unkind judge might say that Natalie was an ugly girl; a more kind judge might say that she had a sort of adorable homeliness or that her face was interesting. Natalie was a small and thin girl of sixteen with narrow sloping shoulders and a long neck. On top of that long neck was a little heart shaped face surrounded by masses of dark curls. Her dark eyes and carmine mouth seemed too big for her face and a little Egyptian nose was stuck discordingly in between them.
After plaiting her hair, Natalie got up from the vanity and went over to a closet at the other end of the room. It was full of shelves covered in knickknacks and curiosities which she had collected.
She wound up a carousel music box and it began to turn and it’s horses went up and down. Two nearby figurines of harlequins were turned and spun to mimic dancing.
When the whistful, tinkling music stopped, she closed the door of the closet.
The music had made her feel very drowsy, it always had that effect on her. She went to bed with her head full of San Fransico and handsome lords.
After Natalie had left, Lucy had stayed a little while longer to chat with her father.
“You made me and your mother very proud today” Mr. Ackerman said.
“How,” Lucy asked.
“You’ve made a quite an impression on Lord Allan.”
“So, I’ve heard.”
“He’d be an exellent match.”
“Father, I hardly know the man and I don’t even know if I like him.”
“Maybe you’ll grow to like him.”
“Good night, Father.”
Her parents had already put her in the way of several eligible men but she had suspected that all of them were more interested in her money than they were in her. If they were looking to set her up with Lord Allan, it would probably be a similar story. Stories of English aristocrats, like him, looking to marry rich American girls, like her, were all over the society columns.
Lucy had long made up her mind not to accept anyone who was only interested in her money.