Mrs. Castle was trying to make conversation with Lord de Sable, but as Maria entered the room, he appeared to be playing statue. At the sound of the door, he turned and saw Maria.
Ah, yes, she was quite agreeable. He’d been busy the past few nights, bedding a woman whose husband was out of town. Lady Helen was a hellcat and he was a bit fatigued. Her husband was returning home today, so he’d thought to look to his other interests: first the Castle chit and then Mrs. Beryll.
He stood a little straighter. Not many men could handle three women at once.
Maria curtseyed very prettily and smiled up at him. “Good-day, my lord. And who do we have to thank for your visit today?”
He stared. She couldn’t know of Lady Helen, could she? “Why, no one, Miss Castle.”
“Maria, what a thing to say!” Mrs. Castle was alarmed. Although Lord Harmon was the better suitor, there was no reason to chase Lord de Sable away. After all, they were both lords.
“My apology, my lord,” and Maria sketched another curtsey. “I just thought you might have seen someone who looked like me, another lady, perhaps? And you thought, Oh, I must visit Miss Castle!”
Maria watched him closely while she said her piece, trying to sound like she was making idle chit-chat.
A tiny flush appeared on his cheeks. Ah-ha. She’d caught him! He’d been off seeing that other woman.
Alex was thrown off-guard. How could she know of Lady Helen? They’d been very discreet.
“Ah, Miss Castle. You were never far from my thoughts.” He straightened himself and pulled his waist coat down. “I have been busy attending to business details, I assure you.”
Mrs. Castle liked the sound of that. Perhaps he’d gone and visited Mr. Castle at this office to ask permission to court Maria.
Maria smiled, a slow temptress’s smile. “I’m so glad to hear it was business, my lord. So many fashionable gentlemen while away their time gambling and such. Visiting many ladies’ drawing rooms, instead of just one.”
Mrs. Castle broke in and began babbling of yesterday evening’s entertainment. Really! Maria had gone too far.
Maria turned her face to her mother. The rat! He had been visiting the other woman. Now if she could just weasel the name out of someone. Lord Harmon would tell her.
Alex knew his cheekbones were flushed. He was alarmed at her manner. How did she know of Lady Helen?
The next few minutes were awkward for Mrs. Castle and de Sable. Maria just smiled serenely and follow the conversation as though it was of great interest, instead of it boring her senseless. She was sorry to have upset her mother, but she was fed up with de Sable. If he didn’t propose soon, she’d refuse to see him when he called.
De Sable was rising gracefully to leave when the heavily laden tea tray arrived. At the sight of it, his stomach growled loudly. Although it was a given in polite society that all such bodily noises should be ignored, Maria couldn’t resist a smile, which she hid behind her hand.
De Sable didn’t see. His eyes were fixed on the sandwiches and cakes. Before Mrs Castle asked him to sit down for tea, he’d retaken his seat.
Maria thought he looked like a hungry puppy.
By the time Ailesworth had deposited the children with Chambers and Mrs. Wilbur and taken a cab back to his office, he wondered if he had lost his mind. What was he to do with two little children? In order to avoid thinking of Esther, his mind kept tumbling the problem over and over. And the same answer always came up: he must find someone to take them in.
He had decided, in the first minutes of his rampage, to never see Esther again. By the time the children had run into him, he’d decided to let her stew for two weeks, or maybe one. Now he decided that one week was sufficient. Let her entertain Stables and see how much she enjoyed that.
Not that de Sable would get very far. Esther considered him a boy. Didn’t she?
By the time he was back in his office with Hassam, he knew what to do: stay away for a week. A week of warmth from his gift of coals should do it. Satisfied he’d gotten that settled, he told Hassam about the children.
“I must find a home for them. Do you know of any decent woman who’d care for them? I’d pay for their keep, of course.”
Hassam was stunned. “Children.”
“Yes, a boy and a girl, Jim and Catherine,” and Ailesworth smiled a bit.
“How old are they?”
Aileswworth stared at him. “How the hell would I know? He paused. “Maybe ten or so. Ten and eight.”
“I don’t know of anyone. Shall I ask my landlady? She might know?
“Yes.” He sighed. Chambers and Mrs. Wilbur would do their best, but neither were used to children.
He forced his mind back on the affairs of Manchester Shipping.
Esther fell asleep after her aunt left. She slept until five o’clock. When she awoke, she was confused. It was dark outside her windows. Why was she in bed in her clothes? What time was it?
She got out of bed and straightened her dress and tidied her hair. Alma was in the parlor, sitting near the fireplace, embroidering.
Esther stood in the doorway. “What time is it?”
“It’s past five, Esther. How do you feel?”
“Very strange. I haven’t napped like that since I was a child.”
“I hoped you’d get some rest. Two such upsets in two days. I know you didn’t sleep well last night.”
“No. Very poorly.”
“Do you want your dinner?”
“Why, yes, I do.”
“I’ll tell them,” and Alma left to go below stairs.
Esther sat, staring at the fire. It took her a minute to realize that she was warm.
Those coals. Jessie had piled them on. But how nice to be warm, warm all through. And of course she thought of Ailesworth and she shuddered. What a fool she was! To make a brouhaha over a paltry gift like that. A thoughtful gift. When he gave diamonds to other women, she was sure. He must have a mistress, one to whom he gave diamonds. And sable-lined cloaks and warm little boots and a muff.
Oh, if only she didn’t have Henrietta and Julia for sisters! Because of them, she had to be moral and upright. She wouldn’t be just one more of the dissolute Duke’s daughters. Even though society allowed widows to wander into eager men’s beds, she couldn’t do it.
Just as her mind–poor, witless thing!–was reaching for the memory of Ailesworth’s hot body and strong arms, Alma came and announced that dinner was on the table.
After dinner, the ladies retreated to the parlor and Esther wanted to tell Alma about the past two days. Discussing their problems with each other always relieved them of some of their burden.
“I don’t know what to say about my quarrel. Do you think me foolish to have reacted so violently to those coals?”
Alma looked her in the eyes and said, “Yes, I do. I think you needed to sit down with him and explain your situation. About your sisters, I mean.”
“I’m so ashamed of them, Alma.”
“Yes, but everyone knows of them. It’s no secret. If Ailesworth knows of them, he doesn’t understand what they mean to you.”
“Yes, I should have figured that out weeks ago, but when it comes to Ailesworth, I don’t think straight.”
“I need to tell you of Aunt Marguerite’s visit, Alma.”
“Wait. What do you plan to do about Ailesworth, Esther?’
“Do? Why do I need… I see. To thank him, you mean.”
“Or perhaps apologize.”
Esther’s cheekbones flushed. “Must I?”
“I think so.”
Esther sighed. “Oh, Alma how hard you are on me.”
Alma smiled. “Think on it. Now tell me about the Countess.”
“It was a shock to see her. She’s aged so. She does want me to go live with her. And she calls me Elizabeth , and sneers at this room, this address.”
Esther’s voice hardened. “So I told her what her brother, the Duke, had done to me.” She looked at Alma sitting beside her on the settee. “As I’ve told Aunt Marguerite, I’ll tell you.”
She moved her gaze to the wall. “My father gambled me away at a game of chance in our home, the once elegant Dramlee Park. In the yellow saloon, which was once bright and cheerful–all silk wall coverings and deep yellow drapes. I recall it used to have lovely sofas covered in apple green brocade. All very sunny and cheerful.
“When I went to that room, with my father pulling me, it was full of smoke and the stink of brandy and whiskey. Faugh! A scene from hell, one of Dante’s circles. If Dante didn’t have gamblers in hell, he should have.
“He pulled me to a table and told a man seated there to look at me. ‘Here’s Elizabeth. She’s sixteen.’ Esther’s voice was low and menacing.
“The man looked at me. Up and down. Then my father said, ‘She’s not a horse,’ and told me to go. I ran out and straight back to the nursery.”
Esther sat back. Her rigid face slowly relaxed.
“The next day Lord Colebrook came and took me away and married me to his steward. Elizabeth Dramlee disappeared, never to return. Why Lord Colebrook arrived just then, I didn’t know. He had a loud fight with the Duke. I doubt that the Duke was surprised to find me gone.”
Esther let her back relax against the settee. “That’s my story, Alma. Not a pretty one,” and she tried to smile.
Alma moved and embraced her. “No wonder you reacted that way to Ailesworth’s presents. ”
Esther laid her head on Alma’s shoulder. She didn’t understand her. Ailesworth connected to her past?
Yes, he was. He was trying to court her and she’d ascribed all the evil motives of that man who’d wanted to buy her to Ailesworth. Of course, he was trying to court her into his bed instead of the altar, but she found she couldn’t blame him.
And one could look at his presents as charity to a needy family!
Esther raised hr head, smiling. Alma asked her what caused the smile and Esther told her. “I must apologize to him.” Oh, how hard it is to admit that one is wrong.
“I’ll write now and we can post it tomorrow.” Esther left the room.
Alma shuddered. And to think she’d believed she had a cruel fate–forced to become a man’s mistress. But her parents had loved her and protected her as long as they lived.
She was very lucky
The Countess was restless the day after her visit to Elisabeth. She couldn’t find enough things to do. Her staff had been well-trained and needed no supervision. If she started to interfere, every thing would be at sixes and sevens.
Suddenly she remembered her cousin, William, the present Duke of Glastonbury. She’d told the women at Dramlee Park she’d see him. Her hand was on the bell pull to call her carriage when she remembered Elizabeth’s words: he lives in a shabbier area of London than this.
Perhaps it would be best if she invited him here. She’d tell him to come for tea.
After she dispatched her note with a footman, she felt relieved. She called for her carriage and went to Bond Street. It was time for a look at the newest bonnets.
William arrived at D’Aellen House at three. Smithers showed him in, as directed, with a slight, a minuscule expression of distaste on his face.
“His Grace, the Duke of Glastonbury, my lady.”
The Countess rose and stared at the figure that shambled in. William had been a tall man but now he was humped over like a book keeper who’d spent hi life over his ledger. His waistcoat was spotted with stains and his black coat and baggy pants were worn to a dull grey. He appeared to be wearing slippers on his feet.
But it was his odor that was most marked. It was mostly unwashed body, but there was also the smell of cheap tobacco and some other unpleasant odors she couldn’t identify, as though he’d been living in an alchemist’s laboratory.
He came and made a slight bow to her. She refused to curtsey. They sat.
“William, how do you go on?”
William wriggled in his chair and then sighed, as though the cushioned seat felt very good. “I’m all right, Marguerite. I go on, ‘deed I do.”
There was a pause. Then the Countess decided she couldn’t bother with the usual social niceties. “Do you have enough income from that run-down property?”
He looked startled. “How did you know it was run-down?”
“I visited Dramlee Park last week. Those servants are still living in that decrepit house!”
William looked surprised. “I thought they’d died.”
“No, they are still alive. I’m moving them to Pemberton.”
He nodded, not very interested in the welfare of servants. His eyes wandered the room.
The tea tray arrived. The Countess had thought he might need some sustenance so she’d ordered a stout tea: meat sandwiches, coddled eggs and cakes.
William’s eyes brightened and he straightened up for the first time since he’d come into the room. The Countess gave him tea and told him to help himself.
He did. She watched him as she sipped her tea. He ate all the sandwiches, two eggs and then started on the cakes. After taking a large bit of a fairy cake, he started. He laid the cake down carefully on his plate, covered with the crumbs of the conquered sandwiches and reached into his inside pocket. He pulled out a sheaf of papers and bits of paper fell into his lap, along with some crumbs. He carefully sorted through the dirty papers until he found an envelope. Eh thrust it at the Countess.
“Here’s what you want.”
She took it, completely mystified. On the envelope, bearing the crest of the Dramlee family, was the name, Elizabeth Dramlee, written in her brother’s strong, slanted hand. She stared at it, feeling the touch of the past. “Where did you get this, William?”
His mouth full of meringue drops, he said, crumbs flying from his lips, “At Dramlee Park.” He swallowed. “I thought that was what you went lookin’ for at Dramlee Park.”
“How could I go looking for it if I didn’t know it existed. Put down that cake and tell me where you found it!”
William sighed and lowered the tiny jam tart he was about to pop in his mouth. Marguerite was always one to stifle a man’s pleasure. He remembered her as a girl, always ordering everyone around. He brushed his fingers together, sending crumbs everywhere. She gritted her teeth and was about to speak again when he said, “It was after George William died. I saw the family solicitor here in town but thought I should go out to see the place. He said it was in very bad shape–when George William paid attention to the farms, it was to do something that made them worse than before. But I wanted to see for myself.
“The house–so bad I couldn’t believe it. Everthin’’ needed repair. I found George’s study where he’d done what work he’d ever done and sat at the desk. I pulled open the center drawer and found that envelope.
“I looked for something addressed to myself, but there was nothin’. Nothing but scraps of paper where he’d written down his gambling debts.” William shook his head. “He owed a fortune when he died. I searched all the drawers but there was nothing’, just that envelope.”
He went back to eating, popping the jam tart into his mouth.
The Countess turned the stiff envelope over in her hands. What had her brother written to his daughter? She badly wanted to read it but knew she’d have to wait. She’d dispatch it to Elizabeth.
She put the letter down and turned and watched William. He had somehow demolished most of the cakes. He put his plate and napkin down and asked for more tea. After a few swallows, he gave a satisfied belch and sat back.
“You know how to feed a man, Marguerite. How’s that boy of yours?”
“He’s on the Continent.”
“Ah.” He nodded.
“I have found Elizabeth.”
“Didn’t know she was lost.”
“She wasn’t lost! It’s just that I didn’t stay in touch with her. She is in London. I’ll see she gets this,” and patted the envelope on the chair beside her.
“Aye, I’d thought you’d know.” William seemed about to fall asleep, now that his belly was jammed full of food.
The Countess rose to pull the bell rope. She’d send William home in her carriage. Of course, it would have to be fumigated afterwards as this room would also be. She stood by the fire and didn’t see William sneak the last of the ginger biscuits into his pocket.
When Smithers came in, she said, “Have the carriage sent round to take the Duke home.”
“I say, that’s good of you, Marguerite. Save me a few pennies.”
“Are you needful of money, William?”
“No. The solicitor fellow’s seein’ to the property. I’m all right.”
William stood up, sending crumbs everywhere. He went to the Countess. “Thank you for the tea, Marguerite. And I’m glad to be rid of that letter.”
She nodded and walked him to the front door.
The carriage arrived and William, now all smiles and nods, departed.
“Smithers! Have that drawing room cleaned and aired.”
“At once, my lady,” and the butler went to give the order to the maids. The maids, as they cleaned, whispered to each other. They thought that their lady had entertained a room full of children.
The night after his adventure in the graveyard, Charles sought out Mac Pherson in his usual tavern, The Monkey’s Paw. Realizing that he needed to limit his consumption of ale if he was to get Mac to listen to him, he was careful how much he drank. Now that he had some money, he wanted to act on his idea to rid himself of Ailesworth. But he needed Mac.
Mac noticed that Chas wasn’t finishing his tankards of ale. He wasn’t getting tipsy at all. As the group dispersed, Charles kept close beside Mac.
“Now, what is it Chas? What do you want from me?” The two men walked along the street. No one was near.
“I want gunpowder.”
“Hsssss! Keep your voice down. And why do you want it?” Although he knew the answer.
“I want to blow up my brother’s ship while he’s on it.” Charles felt a surge of power. A person who could sell dead bodies could do anything.
“Does he spend much time on his ships?”
“No. But he’ll receive a message that’ll bring him to the Mary-Anne. There will be a trail of gunpowder already there. I’ll just need to set it going and get off the ship.
“Kaboom! And that’s the end of Ailesworth.”
Mac considered as they strolled. As usual, he had his cane with him. The cane was heavy enough to inflict damage on any footpad. And it contained a sword. Mac always felt well-armed as he kept watch on his surroundings.
“I have no connections here in London,” Charles continued. “I don’t know how to get the stuff. Do you?”
“I’ll ask around. Are you sure you want to do this?” An idea had occurred to Mac Pherson, one that would save Ailesworth’s life and keep Miggs from becoming a murderer. He smiled slightly he knew just the man.
He didn’t hear Charles’ thoughts on his brother. He’d heard them before.
Charles felt relieved and excited. His plan was going forward.
The men separated at a cab stand. Charles leaped nimbly into the cab. His mind was clear. He could do some more reading tonight. He’d found a book about gunpowder in the library. He’d best study it.