Below me the house was alive with over one hundred guests for Charles's send-off—nearly all of Rye and a few choice men from around Westchester County whom Father was hoping would catch my eye. I could hear Mr. Wright, who dealt in spirits, bellowing loudly about the quality of Father's brandy while Maribelle McRae struck the piano keys with a desperate fervor, as though playing every waltz she'd ever danced with Charles would convince him to stay and marry her.
I glanced out the window one last time, wishing I could disappear into the quiet of the flower field rather than enter the roaring rollick below, but my absence would be noticed. I turned, patted the intricate figure-eight hairstyle Agnes had spent nearly an hour crafting and waving with curling tongs, and stepped into the hall. I ran my hand along the mahogany wainscot and locked eyes with the portrait of my mother as a young girl hanging on the wall between Charles's and Freddie's quarters. Mother had been a saint. She'd taught Father English and gladly moved from the city to a tiny one-room house in Rye so Father could start the nurseries, not minding whatsoever that Father hadn't a cent to his name.
Suddenly footsteps pounded up the stairs and Charles appeared in the hall.
"Sadie, come quick. Father's leaned into the bottle quite a bit and I'm afraid he's cornered Harry Brundage about his intentions with you."
I sighed. Harry Brundage was nice enough and of decent appearance, but he was an iron heir who did nothing on his own. I'd even heard rumors that one of his servants steamed his newspapers. Spoiled men were demanding and entitled, and I absolutely wouldn't subject myself to that. A true gentleman handled success with humility. My parents, their union forged in the city slums, had always been clear that our wealth was a gift won by hard work and providence and that we were always to be grateful for the endowment given to us.
"Father should be more concerned with mine," I said.
"For your sake, I wish you didn't have them," Charles said, looping my arm through his as we made our way down the stairs. "I know you want the run of this place, but despite your pointed hints, you have never plainly expressed your interest to Father for a reason. You know he would rather dig his own grave than let our peers believe he's subjected his only daughter to the perils of commerce. Especially now. Marry well—a man who enjoys plants like you do. That would satisfy you, would it not?"
"Whatever do you mean, 'especially now'? And my gowns have already been soiled by 'the perils of commerce,' as you say. I'm just as involved as you are, Charles."
He looked down at the steps as we descended, a short tendril of light brown hair coming loose from his pomade.
"That may be the case, Sadie, but you're involved in the natural work, in the work of the soil, while I know the figures and read the papers and keep an eye on the state of the economy. Wall Street is sinking. Has been for two months since the Philadelphia and Reading Rail collapse. Surely you know it too. You've heard the whispers. The Shorts, the Adamses, the McCluskys have all gone bankrupt, their fortunes vanished by the collapse of the market or the collapse of others' fortunes who can no longer afford the fine furniture and linens their businesses offered."
I could hear the phrase he refused to say, that perhaps the luxury of fine gardens was next. I'd thought those families had left town solely because they were heavily invested in the market—something Father was not. I'd thought we were safe. Perhaps Charles hadn't been lured to Florida by the promise of adventure, fame, and philandering after all. Perhaps he knew something I didn't. The fear of it was paralyzing.
"Look around tonight," he went on, his voice low. "The LeBlanc family is gone as of this morning."
"What?" The news shocked me and I stopped on the landing, clutching the baluster and feeling at once like I might faint. Charles turned and grasped my other arm.
"Are you all right?"
The heavy scents of hyacinth and magnolia mingled with imperial crab and duck confit. Minutes ago I had smiled with the warmth of the combination, but now it made my stomach weak.
"I just saw Sylvie yesterday in the village."
"Mr. LeBlanc was hoping the Patterson account would be paid and buy him some time, but he found out last night that the funds weren't going to be deposited. The Pattersons should be ashamed, truly. Obviously they're a railroad family and their fortunes are greatly diminished, which is why they're halting construction on their country place in Port Chester, but they're not in danger of losing their Fifth Avenue townhome."