Justine Cole

The Copeland Bride

© 1983

To Julie and Gail… thank you.

To Linda who said, 'Of course you will.'

And, without question, to Sandra Choron.


'Noelle, ma petite, if we just hang on a bit longer, things will get better, you'll see.'

Daisy Dorian was sitting at her cluttered dressing table carefully brushing into fashionable disarray the short blond ringlets that curled too youthfully around her face. With her littlest fingers she touched her lips lightly with coral and then, satisfied with the result, pouted prettily into the mirror.

The seven-year-old child sitting nearby gazed at her mother. She knew she had never seen anyone so beautiful. She did not notice the lines at the corners of Daisy's blue eyes or the puffiness under her chin, nor did she realize that the blond curls were a shade less bright and the upper arms a touch less firm than they had been. More than anything, Noelle wanted to look like her mother when she grew up.

'La bonne chance is finally going to smile on us,' Daisy concluded. 'Why, just today I overheard Mr. Lackland discussing the casting for Hamlet. I tell you, Noelle, he looked quite hard at me when he was discussing Ophelia.'

Noelle giggled happily and ran to kneel beside her mother, careful not to touch Daisy's last good gown, a somewhat worn but still attractive pink confection.

'What a wonderful Ophelia you would be. Mama.' She placed the accent carefully at the end of 'Mama' just as Daisy had taught her, for Daisy, in the mode of the day, admired ail things French. 'Just think how exciting it will te when you are famous.'

She jumped up and threw her thin arms above her head. 'Daisy Dorian appearing at Coven! Garden with Mr. John Philip Kemble! Or maybe you and Mrs. Suidons could do As You Like It. She can be Celia; I want you to play Rosalind.'

Daisy smiled fondly at her daughter and replied that she very much doubted whether Mrs. Siddons would agree with that casting.

Ignoring her mother's pessimism, Noelle danced enthusiastically around the small, shabby room. 'I loved it when you told me that story. Especially the part where Orlando finally meets his Rosalind in the Forest of Arden and everybody gets married.' She dropped to the floor, her eyes wistful. 'I would so love to see a wedding. Maybe someday you can get married, and I could be in your wedding. Do you think I could, Mama?'

Daisy set down the musky cologne she had been dabbing in the hollow of her throat and turned to her daughter, who was regarding her solemnly. She experienced a familiar warmth as she gazed at the beautiful topaz eyes and the little elfin face surrounded by golden brown curls cut as short as Daisy's own.

'Aren't you happy, enfant, with just the two of us?'

'Of course I'm happy, Mama. But if you got married, I would have a father, and we shouldn't have to worry about the bills we can't pay.' She paused thoughtfully. 'And we could live in a beautiful house, and I could have a pony.'

Daisy's laughter tinkled gaily. 'Why, you little minx! You don't give a fig about my getting married. You just want a pony. Besides, you do have a father as you very well know. He just doesn't live with us.'

'I know, Mama, and he is noble and handsome and rich!'

And I'm not precisely sure who he is, Daisy silently added, giving her hair one last reassuring pat. But it was no doubt true that he had been all three of those things.

That was such a happy time in her life. All those rich and titled gentlemen bringing her flowers and buying her trinkets and sharing her bed. She inspected her face critically. Now it was not so easy; the years had passed much too quickly.

'Don't plop so when you sit, Noelle. Lower yourself gracefully.' She had spoken more sharply than she intended. 'Remember, cherie, you have the blood of kings in your veins.'

Anticipating her mother's next admonition, Noelle straightened in her chair, being careful not to lean against the back. 'I do wish I could see him just once.'

As much to herself as to Noelle, Daisy admonished, 'I'm sure you do, ma petite, but it's so silly to waste time wishing for things that are impossible and worrying about what may or may not happen. It's much better to have fun: to dance, to play cards or buy a new hat.'

'But you do have to worry or you won't have the money to buy the hat, Mama. And that's why I'm so happy. Not only will you be famous when Mr. Lackland lets you play Ophelia, but we'll be able to pay all our bills and even give Mrs. Muspratt the rent money so she'll stop looking at me with her nasty old face all pinched up.'

Inwardly Daisy cursed herself for mentioning Ophelia to Noelle. She was such a solemn little thing, so intent on Daisy establishing herself as a famous actress. However, even Daisy's cheerfully optimistic nature would not permit her to place any great store in a brilliant future on the stage; at thirty, she was getting a bit long in the tooth. Besides, when Francis Lackland was watching her, he had undoubtedly been remembering the enjoyable tumble they had had the previous night on the floor of his sitting room.

Daisy's life as a demimonde had begun at fifteen when she escaped her tyrannical yeoman father by running away to London. She promptly lost her maidenhood to an elderly baronet who bought her muslins and silks that she had made up into slim, clinging gowns. She wore gold bracelets on her bare arms and ostrich plumes in her soft curls. He adored her; she made him feel young again, gay and carefree.

Soon after Daisy's eighteenth birthday, he died. She wept for a day and then resolved to make a career for herself in the theater. Although she was hired immediately for her beauty, managers were understandably reluctant to advance her beyond minor roles when they heard how thin her voice was, how lacking in dramatic range.

In the past few years even the smaller parts had become scarce, and her debts had climbed alarmingly. She found herself dependent upon the largess of her admirers. Unfortunately, the men who now sought her favors were no longer the charming and wealthy gentlemen of the ton. Instead, they were tradesmen and clerks, men who worked hard for their money and guarded it carefully.

Thinking of money always made Daisy's head ache, and now she stood abruptly and smoothed her pink frock. The new edging of white lace at the neck and hem was quite successful, she reflected, hoping, at the same time, that no one would recognize the refurbished garment.

'I'm going out, now, cherie. Tuck yourself in as soon as I leave.' She kissed Noelle on her soft, dimpled chin. 'Bonsoir, enfant. '

'Bonsoir, Mama.' Noelle closed the door behind her mother and then climbed into the bed they shared, pulling the covers up to her chin. She was asleep almost instantly.

It was only a few hours later that Daisy raced through the streets back to her lodgings. The night had turned

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