They went up the long staircase, wafted along by footmen, and at the top were met by a white-wigged major domo who took their names and announced in clear, measured tones, "The American Minister, Mr. Rush. Mr. Bodmin. Miss Bodmin."
The elegant, haughty-looking woman who stood on the wide landing receiving her guests smiled fractionally, her shrewd eyes taking careful measure of the newcomers. Richard Rush, she knew. She was Lady Bridgewater and her husband, the Earl of Bridgewater, was a member of Lord Liverpool's government. This was a political reception she was hosting and most of the diplomatic community had been invited.
The Bodmins were not from the diplomatic community. When Richard Rush had written to ask if he might bring them, he had given only a sketchy background of his visitors; but Lady Bridgewater had done some checking of her own. She looked now, appraisingly, at the tall, wide-shouldered man whom she had been told was the greatest individual ship owner in the United States and the wealthiest man in New England.
William Bodmin looked to be in his middle fifties. He had thick gray hair and thick straight eyebrows, a strongly jutting nose and firm chin. His whole demeanor proclaimed the unmistakable authority of ability, experience and success. He smiled now at Lady Bridgewater. "It was very kind of you to allow us to come, my lady. I was anxious to show my daughter some London parties, and Rush here said he would trespass upon your good nature and ask if he might bring us along."
"I am very pleased to extend a welcome to such a distinguished visitor from overseas," Lady Bridge-water answered temperately. "You must let me make you known to my husband." Then, having passed the men along, she turned her attention to the girl.
Teresa Bodmin looked fearlessly back and waited for Lady Bridgewater to speak first "Are you enjoying London, Miss Bodmin?" that lady asked after she had taken in every aspect of the girl's appearance.
"I hardly know," came the reply. "We've only been here a week, you see. I expect I shall like it once I get my bearings a bit." Her voice was clear and cultured and assured. Lady Bridgewater nodded a little with satisfaction and expertly handed her along to the Earl.
William Bodmin was unabashedly pleased to be at Bridgewater House. He passed through the rooms, his daughter's arm in his, and expanded visibly as his gaze took in the brilliant company--the men in immaculate evening dress, the women lovely and elegant in their dresses that left their shoulders bare.
"We don't have anything like this back in Salem, do we, Tracy?" he asked his daughter.
"No, Papa," she responded obediently.
"Not in Boston, either. Or New York. Or Washington City. When it comes to real elegance, the English have it all over us."
His daughter looked at him curiously but said nothing. A little later, when her father was talking to Lord Bridgewater, Richard Rush asked her, "Are you enjoying yourself. Miss Bodmin?"
She wrinkled her nose a little and looked at him with laughing eyes. "Would it be odiously ungrateful of me if I told you I wasn't?"
"Oh, after you went to all that trouble to get us invited."
"It was no trouble." He looked a little concerned. "Is there something I can do?"
"It isn't you, Mr. Rush," she said, briefly laying her hand on his sleeve. "It is just that we are strangers here, Papa and I. We look all right. We seem to blend in with everyone else, but we don't, really."
At that. Lady Bridgewater came up to them. "You must allow me to introduce you to a few people. Miss Bodmin," she said with a smile that was less haughty than the one she had bestowed upon Tracy at the door.
"That would be very nice," Tracy responded politely, if unenthusiastically, and allowed herself to be led away by the Countess. William Bodmin, rejoining Mr. Rush, watched them cross the room.
"I am very obliged to you. Rush, for bringing us tonight," he said once again to his fellow countryman. "These are just the sort of people I want Tracy to get to know."
"Lady Bridgewater is very aristocratic," said Mr. Rush carefully. "I shouldn't expect too much out of the acquaintance if I were you, Mr. Bodmin. Americans are acceptable for political receptions, but she is far too particular to invite us to one of her purely social affairs. One has to have a pedigree that goes back at least three hundred years to hope to achieve that honor."
William Bodmin went on watching his daughter's graceful progress with satisfaction. "Ten million dollars is an excellent pedigree," he said serenely.
"Yes," said Mr. Rush after a pause. "Yes, I guess it is."
Mr. Bodmin's sanguine expectations appeared to be borne out when, toward the end of the evening, Lady Bridgewater took the trouble of singling him out for a private conversation. "Your daughter is a charming girl, Mr. Bodmin," she told him.
Tracy's father smiled with honest pleasure. "She is the dearest thing in the world to me," he said. "My fondest hope is to see her settled in the kind of setting I think she deserves."
"Ah?" said Lady Bridgewater, raising a thin eyebrow. "Such a young lady deserves a distinguished place in the world."
"She will be able to afford one," said Mr. Bodmin. "I will be blunt with you. Lady Bridgewater. I want to see my girl married. It is what I have toiled and struggled for all these years, so I could see her settled. To see her well married. I want the best product on the market for my girl and I've come to England to get it. I know the best can't be had for mere money, but I rather think money will do a great deal. Tracy will do the rest."
Lady Bridgewater was looking at him thoughtfully. "You are blunt indeed, Mr. Bodmin." She smiled and tapped him on the arm. "Bring Miss Bodmin to call on me tomorrow."
William Bodmin smiled back. "You are very kind," he said, and Lady Bridgewater nodded and moved on.
The Bodmins duly called at Bridgewater House the next day and the Countess subjected Tracy to a ruthless scrutiny, which rather annoyed Tracy, although she was too polite to show it. The result of the visit was an invitation by Lady Bridgewater to accompany her to a ball being given the following evening by the Countess of Kincaid.
The ball was what Lady Bridgewater called a sad crush. Present were about five hundred of the cream of London society. Lady Bridgewater graciously introduced Tracy to half a dozen young men and sat back to watch the results.
The results were interesting indeed. Word soon spread that the extremely pretty girl who had come in with Lady Bridgewater was an American. Further waves of information disclosed that the large man with her was her father, and that he was a millionaire. "I understand that he made a fortune out of trading with Russia during the war," said Lady Jersey to Mrs. Drummond Burrell.
"Yes, but how does Georgina know him?"
"I'm not sure, but Bridgewater is President of the Board of Trade, remember. It must be something to do with politics."
"Well, money is all very well, but who are they? One never knows with Americans."
"True. The girl is lovely, though." Here both aristocratic ladies paused to gaze critically at Miss Teresa Bodmin. The young man dancing with her was gazing as well, but not at all critically.
Tracy was worth looking at. She was tall and slender with a quantity of brown-blonde hair that fell gracefully to her shoulders. If her father projected an aura of power and authority, Tracy's chief characteristic was vitality. Her skin glowed with health, her hazel eyes were bright and clear, her flashing smile showed straight white teeth; over all, she had a lovely, golden, young look that was extraordinarily attractive.
"She seems to know how to behave," said Mrs. Drummond Burrell a little grudgingly.
"Yes. I wonder what Georgina can have in mind," replied Lady Jersey, one of the patronesses of Almacks and guardians of the purity of English society.
Watching his daughter, William Bodmin was a happy man. This scheme of his of introducing Tracy to English society had been in the back of his mind for some time, and several events had recently occurred to cause him to finally put it into practice.
For one thing, Tracy had turned eighteen, and it was high time she married. He had also realized that if he didn't introduce her to an appropriate English young man shortly, she would undoubtedly attach herself to some American young man. There were several in Salem who showed every sign of attaching themselves to her--one Captain Adam Lancaster in particular. William Bodmin had a great liking and respect for Adam Lancaster,but he wanted something else for Tracy.
Fifty-eight years ago William Bodmin had been born in a small fishing village in Cornwall. His only future had been the Royal Navy, which was nothing more than a living hell, so at age thirteen he had taken ship to America and landed in Salem. All through his early teens he had shipped as a boy on coasters; he had seen Saint Petersburg before he ever set foot in Boston. By the time he was twenty-three he was in command of an East-Indiaman.
He had married Kathleen Breen, of Boston, whose father was a small ship owner. William Bodmin, however, was not destined for small things. By the time President Jefferson's embargo caught him in 1807, he was worth three million dollars.
New England was against the embargo, a self-blockade that confined American merchant ships to port. Its purpose was to demonstrate to the British that England must allow America, as a neutral power in the Napoleonic wars, to trade with Europe. The embargo hurt the English economy badly. Unfortunately, it also had a paralyzing effect on American commerce.
William Bodmin had supported the embargo. As a patriotic American he had said it was a necessary measure of self-protection. For his pains he had been expelled from the Federalist party, along with a fellow Massachusetts rebel, John Quincy Adams. Bodmin had sacrificed financial profit and social position by his stand, but he had stuck to it. And when the embargo was lifted, he had made more money.
Why, then, was this man--a truly patriotic American, who had personally financed the outfitting of two naval ships during the late war against England, and who was fiercely proud of, and devoted to, his adopted country--so determined to marry his only child into the English aristocracy? The answer to that question went back many years to his boyhood in Cornwall, when he had observed with awe and wonder the lords and ladies of the "Great House" in his neighborhood. He had thought then that no way of life could ever rival that of the English aristocracy, and nothing he had seen since then had caused him to change his mind. It was not the life for him; he would not know what to do with it if he ever came into it, but it was the life he wanted for his daughter.
So now he looked around the glittering ballroom and smiled with contentment. So firmly convinced was he of the superiority of what he was viewing that it never occurred to him to wonder if Tracy might think differently.