Authors: Cynthia Thomason
Copyright @Cynthia Thomason
New York City, 1893
"Papa, be reasonable. It’s the nineties. Many people are saying we’re approaching an Age of Enlightenment.”
Winston Sheridan folded his copy of the
New York Courier
and dropped it beside his plate. “Who, Elizabeth? Exactly who is saying that? I believe I would have heard about it.”
“It is spoken of in nearly all the lecture halls at university.” Elizabeth knew how far she could go with her intractable father, and she had not nearly reached that limit yet. “Besides, you act as if women are delicate hothouse blooms that need constant nurturing. It’s just not so. And not fair.”
Winston cast a forbidding glance at his daughter before picking up his newspaper again and snapping it open.
"I'll tell you what's not fair, missy," Winston declared. "It's when a man who happens to be the editor-in-chief of the city's largest newspaper can't sit at his breakfast table on a Friday morning and read the product of his labors in peace!"
Elizabeth crossed her arms and frowned. "You'd be paying more attention if Ross were talking to you about this instead of me."
"And rightly so. Your brother is a grown man." Then lowering his voice, Winston added, "Though he gives me reason to doubt that fact nearly every day of his life. But it would make a lot more sense for Ross to come to me with such demands than it does for my daughter who is barely out of hair bows and bloomers!"
"Hair bows and bloomers! I'm twenty-three years old, Papa, whether you accept it or not! Besides, why in heaven's name did you send me to university if you didn't intend for me to use my education?"
Winston removed his spectacles and waved one of the earpieces at his daughter as if it were a weapon. "You know damn well why, Elizabeth. I had it in my mind that you'd meet some nice young man and settle down so before my days on this earth are over, I'd have a couple of little shavers to bounce on my knee. Lord knows I can't count on Ross to reproduce. And I thought I'd end up with a daughter schooled in music and art, not one who badgers me to roam the back alleys of Manhattan in search of headlines!"
Elizabeth gave her father her sternest glare. His ideas belonged in the Middle Ages, as did many of the columns in his newspaper.
"So if I devoted my life to being the perfect hostess in your drawing room, and if I entertained you by playing Chopin on your piano, you'd be happy, is that right?"
Winston cast his eyes to the ceiling and sighed wistfully. "Elizabeth, my dear, I would be ecstatic."
She swept her arm around the formal dining room, encompassing the buffet covered with gleaming silver trays and the twin china cupboards filled with the finest European porcelain. "Don't you think this apartment has entirely too much bric-a-brac as it is, Papa? If I were the person you claim you want me to be, then Bridey would just have to dust me as well, and she already has far too many trinkets to keep clean."
His jaw muscles quivered. Elizabeth knew that smiling was the absolute last thing her father wanted to do, but in spite of his efforts, his gray handlebar moustache twitched. "You're not going to let this go, are you, Elizabeth?"
She thrust out her chin. His simple question let her know that her persistence was wearing him down, and she took full advantage of this slight victory.
"You know I'm not. I want to be a reporter, Papa. If not with the
, then with another paper." She stood and went around the corner of the table to take his hand. "I'll work my way up. Just give me a chance.” Pausing for effect, she added, “Or I’ll go to another paper, one that will appreciate my talents and ambition.”
His shoulders sagged and he exhaled a deep breath. Threatening to get a job with his competition was working.
"If I agree to give you an assignment, Elizabeth,” he said, “you'll take it without questioning me? I'm the editor, remember."
"Absolutely, Papa. You're the boss." Suddenly suspicious of her father's capitulation, Elizabeth bit her lower lip to keep from blurting out her total submission. It might not be wise to give in too easily before she had all the facts. "You do mean a reporter's assignment, right? You're not trying to trick me into filling ink pots?"
"As if I could," he grumbled. "No, I'll give you a real assignment. In fact, I have one in mind for tomorrow night."
"Tomorrow?" Elizabeth clasped her hands under her chin and felt a rush of pure excitement. "Where is it? Water Street? The harbor? The Bowery?"
Winston looped his thumbs in the slits of his vest. A smile of triumph lit his face. "Seventh Avenue," he said.
"Seventh Avenue? Nothing worth writing about ever happens on Seventh Avenue."
"Not so, my dear. The Dorchester Hotel is celebrating a grand reopening after the kitchen fire last December. It promises to be a glorious affair, and since you refused to go with that nice young Carl Fleet..."
Elizabeth narrowed her eyes at him. The reference to
had fired her anger again. “Believe me, Papa, you wouldn’t want me to go anywhere with Carl Fleet.”
"Don't be unkind, Elizabeth. Carl is considered a fine catch and you'd do well to encourage him instead of turning down every offer he gives you. Like me, his father is just as anxious to have grandchildren."
"If that's the case," Elizabeth snapped back, "then all Stanley Fleet needs to do is take his carriage to the lower east side and look for all the children with curly orange hair and a hook nose like Carl's. He'll discover he already has more heirs than he'd like to lay claim to."
"You're incorrigible, Elizabeth. I don't know why I ever take you seriously."
Feeling the ground she’d gained with her father slipping away, Elizabeth softened her approach. "I'm sorry, Papa. Tell me about the assignment."
"No arguments? You'll take it with good grace?"
She nodded. "No arguments."
"You can cover the hotel opening for the Lady's Page of the
. I was going to send Ira Rothstein, but I'm sure he'll be happy if you go instead. So what'll it be? Shall I tell Ira he has a night off?"
Elizabeth made this decision like she made most of them in her life - quickly and decisively. Within seconds she considered her limited options, knowing that she couldn't turn down this sweetcake assignment or her father would have her right where he wanted her. She wasn't about to give him the satisfaction of calling her a prima donna.
"You go right ahead and tell Ira, Papa. I'll take the assignment and any others you give me. I'll show you that I can make a darn good story out of even the opening of the Dorchester Hotel."
Bridey Haggarty removed the curling iron from the last of the finger curls cascading from Elizabeth's crown. The maid then fluffed the rippling spirals until they flounced like a red-gold halo around her mistress's face.
"'Tis like a vision you look, Miss Lizzie," she said in the thick Irish brogue that had been as soothing as a cozy blanket for all the years Elizabeth could remember.
Elizabeth wasn't convinced however. "My hair's really too red, Bridey. This summer I'll just add a bit of lemon juice to the ends and sit on the balcony. The sun will make it lighter."
"You do and you'll answer to me darlin'. I'll not have you messing with what the good Lord gave you as a special blessing." The maid placed a small tiara in back of Elizabeth's slightly off-center widow's peak and looked at her reflection in the mirror. "Like diamonds on a bed of soft velvet, and you'll not be changing your hair to satisfy a silly whim."
Elizabeth tugged at the low cut bodice of her dress and adjusted a shimmering shawl to hide her cleavage. "This gown is entirely wrong, Bridey. I don't look anything like a reporter."
"But you do look like an angel. And besides, dressing like this you're sure to get the inside scoop from all those society types."
Elizabeth smiled thinly and spoke with the lack of enthusiasm she felt for the project facing her. "Thanks, maybe so. Anyway, Papa told me to dress up, so I have. And now I'll go to the hotel in Papa's carriage with Papa's driver looking out for me. Oh, Bridey, isn't anything exciting ever going to happen to me?"
At one o'clock in the morning, five hours after arriving at the Dorchester, Elizabeth gathered her wrap from the cloakroom attendant and stepped outside to a quiet Seventh Avenue. Just a few couples walked the gas-lit sidewalks of the fashionable thoroughfare. "Are you ready for your carriage, Miss Sheridan?" the doorman asked.