After de Sable left them, Esther showed Alma the two letters. She opened the one from her aunt.
“Aunt Marguerite says she had William, the present Duke, to tea and he gave her this,” waving the second envelope. “How odd,” she continued, gazing at the thick, cream-colored vellum. “It makes me feel strange to see my name in my fathers’s handwriting. I doubt he ever wrote it before.”
Esther kept turning the envelope in her hand. “I never had anything from my father,” she murmured. A kaleidoscope of emotions tumbled in her head: pleasure at her father’s acknowledgment of her, anger that he ignored her when they were both at Dramlee Park, fear at what the letter might say, and then disgust at herself for caring about him.
“I’m dithering, Alma.” Then she ripped the envelope open.
“‘Elizabeth–” she read,
I’ve decided to save these jewels for you. They were sold by a
French emigre family fleeing the guillotine. Three times I won them from
Hardesty after twice losing them. Since they seem fated to come back to
me, I’ve decided to put them away for your future. I’ve told that fool,
Planchet, never to give them back to me no matter how often I plead. And
plead I know I shall —
Your father —-
The signature was a scrawl.
She unfolded the other sheet of paper. It was a letter to Planchet and Rye telling them to give the diamonds in their possession to his daughter, Elizabeth. His bold signature filled half the page.
Alma was silent. Esther sat staring at the wall. Alma gently took the pages from her and read them and put them aside.
“That odious man!”
“Why didn’t he see that I got them when I needed them? He should have given this letter to Lord Colebrook when he knew Colebrook was taking me away. Sotted, he was.”
“If he had, Jacob would have spent the money,” Alma said. “You’d never seen a cent of it.”
“He drank so, Alma.”
“No, no! The Duke. You can see it in his handwriting.” The room was quiet for awhile. Alma kept still.
“I thought he never cared about me.” Another pause. “I thought he never cared for anyone or anything. Except gaming and brandy.” Another pause, as she gazed out the window. “But I was in the nursery, Alma.” She turned and loogked at Alma. “I don’t know if he tried to stop Henrietta and Julia. Maybe he did. It was my mother’s influence. She had no morals at all. I think she used my sisters to attract men to our house. I think he’d left their upbringing entirely to my mother. Perhaps he was sorry at the results.
“I just thought: Do you suppose he kept my mother from me? That’s why I spent all my time in the nursery? When I did run into my sisters, they’d say things like ‘Little Miss Princess, still in the nursery with Jessom?’ or”Learned your bible yet, Papa’s Darling?’
“I didn’t understand. So I’d run to Jessom. If they followed, Jessom would quote the bible at them, calling then ‘Unclean daughters of Jezebel!’ My! She could use the bible as a bludgeon!”
“‘Papa’s Darling.’ They called you that?”
Esther turned to Alma. “Yes. I never thought of it before. They must have had a reason.”
“Perhaps your mother wanted you to come down and join these parties and your father refused.”
Wonderingly, Esther said, “You must be right, yet he never displayed the slightest interest in me. I did look like him, whereas Julia and Henrietta looked just like my mother. She was a renowned beauty in her day. But cold and indifferent.”
Esther gave a little shudder. “I thought I was forgotten, Alma. Instead, perhaps he kept me in a safe haven, with all the love Jessom and Mrs. Bender could give me. I was blessed. Not cursed, like those sisters of mine.”
“Esther! That’s not like you. They aren’t cursed.”
“No, of course not. They both married, you know. Henrietta’s wedding was big and elaborate but Julia’s was small and quick. I didn’t go to that.
“Jessom took me to Henrietta’s wedding but whisked me away to the nursery shortly after. So many people in silks and velvet with diamonds glittering. I remember it was hot; the fireplaces were blazing. All the chandeliers were ablaze. And loud. I never heard such a racket before.
“My mother looked funny. Now I realize she had powdered her face heavily and used rouge. She must have been ill then.”
She turned to Alma. “Are all wedding celebrations loud?”
“I don’t know. I’ve only been to small, village weddings.”
“Anyhow, here’s this letter to Rye. Let’s go there.”
“Yes, now. To get it over with.”
Alma thought that a strange way to talk of coming into a fortune, but said nothing as they went to get their cloaks.
Mr. Castle was delighted to return home from his office that day. Two titled gentlemen had called on him to request his permission to pay court to his daughter.
The family was sitting at the dinner table when he announced, “Well, my dear, we’ll soon see our pet well married.”
“Mr. Castle! What do you mean?”
Maria put her fork down and regarded her father. Her brothers kept eating.
“Only that two titled gentleman came to see me to ask permission to pay court to our Maria.”
Mrs. Castle sat back and smiled at Maria.
“Names, Papa, names,” said Maria.
“Lord de Sable and Lord Harmon.”
Maria began eating again while her younger brothers made sarcastic comments about Lord Disaster.
Finally, he’d come up to the mark and now she didn’t want him, Lord Disaster. If she could get Lord Harmon to propose, all would be well. She was getting tired of going to these balls and routs with her mother. She wanted to swan in as a lady, Lord and Lady Harmon. Yes, that sounded fine.
She needed to set plans, plans for both of them.
The next day, Lord de Sable was the first to arrive, at the beginning of calling hours. He came in a phaeton which seated two. Maria found ways to delay them a bit in the hopes that Lord Harmon would call; but she then decided a ride would be nice. The day was lovely, sunny with a touch of the north in the wind.
She was happy to be out of the house and riding in a high perch phaeton. The breeze felt invigorating and Lord de Sable held the reins well. The horses weren’t high-spirited and the phaeton looked a bit battered, but Maria didn’t care.
De Sable had borrowed the rig from a cousin and had rented horses. It burned him that he had no pair or rig of his own, and so he wasn’t good company.
Maria kept up a stream of talk, but as he answered only in monosyllables, she gave up and enjoyed the ride.
As it turned out, they were too early for many people to be in the park. Maria was disappointed but de Sable had planned it. He didn’t want the haute ton seeing him in his rattling phaeton or with a mutton merchant’s daughter. Since he planned to marry her, that didn’t make sense, but it would be all right once she was Lady de Sable.
They left the Park when de Sable saw more people arrive. Maria was disappointed but at least Lord de Sable was talking to her. When they arrived back at the house, Maria had lovely roses in her cheeks and her eyes sparkled.
“Mama, it was lovely. We–oh! Lord Harmon,” and she curtseyed.
Harmon thought he’d never seen such a beauty. Unlike de Sable, he enjoyed seeing a lively intelligence in a woman’s eyes. And now those eyes were bright with mischief as she had the pleasure of two swains in her drawing room.
De Sable was surprised to see Harmon in the Castle’s drawing room, and knocked over one of the small tables on his way to the group by the fire place. As he bent to pick it up–the butler had disappeared–he knocked over two more.
“Oh, Lord de Sable, don’t, I beg you, pick up those tables! I know I have too many. My husband complains all the time.” Mrs. Castle was wringing her hands.
Maria stifled her laughter and reached out and put her hands over her mother’s. Mrs. Castle stopped fussing and smiled at her daughter.
Lord Harmon, who was coughing, thought the love between mother and daughter was very pleasant to see. It was what he saw in his own family.
By the time de Sable had made his way to Maria’s side, the butler and a footman arrived with heavily laden tea trays. Lord Harmon’s eyes widened and then he looked at de Sable. Stables had the greediest look on his face. That’s why the meat sandwiches. This family must be feeding him.
The group settled down, Maria poured the tea and handed round the sandwiches. Lord Harmon took just tea. He’d had a rather good meal with his father at his father’s club–a private dining club with an excellent chef. He’d enjoyed his roast beef despite his father’s lecture: it was time to get married, it was time to find a wife, I can’t support you forever, and so on.
Harmon never told his father he had asked Mr. Castle for permission to pay his addresses to Maria. Time for that when he had her safely tucked under his arm. Or beneath him.
No–he needed to keep in mind that she was an innocent chit, a young girl with no knowledge of love-making. Too much heat this early on and he’d alarm her.
How pretty she was, with her cheeks rosy and her eyes full of mischief. She kept looking at Stables and then at him, hoping to surprise a conspirator’s smile at the sight of Stables making heavy inroads on the sandwiches and cake.
Harmon finally gave her a wink and was rewarded with a brilliant smile and a giggle.
Mrs. Castle wrenched her eyes from the sight of de Sable eating his way through te tea tray and said, “Maria? Did Lord Harmon make a jest?”
“No, Mama, I mean yes, Mama. Tell Mama your jest, Lord Harmon,” and she grinned at him.
He shook his head at her and said, “I merely remarked, Mrs. Castle, that Miss Castle’s hair was such that she resembled a hoyden, albeit an adorable hoyden.”
Maria was delighted with his impossible explanation. De Sable kept eating, although he thought he should compliment the chit properly once he was through with his apple tart.
Mrs. Castle was confused. She had not heard Lord Harmon speak, although she was aware of their silent flirting while she attempted to make conversation with Lord de Sable. “Maria, my dear, tuck in your hair. Lord Harmon is correct. You do look hoydenish.”
De Sable put down his tea cup. “Miss Castle always looks like perfection, Harmon. Indeed, if all her hair were down, she’d still resemble a perfect lady.”
Harmon looked at Maria and felt a surge of heat to his loins. He could see Maria’s thick black curls spread over the sheets–this wouldn’t do. He shifted in his seat.
Maria blushed. What a thing to say! She looked at Lord Harmon and saw that his blue eyes had darkened with the look of a warrior was on his face. Oh my!
“Why thank you, my lord. You are right, of course. Maria is always a perfect lady.” Mrs. Castle smiled complacently. The money they had spent on her! Dancing lessons and deportment lesson and lessons on how far to curtsey to a Baron. It had all been worth it. Here were two titled men in her drawing room, courting her daughter. She sighed in pure happiness.
Lord Harmon stood up, having gotten his nether parts under control and made ready to leave. Maria stood also and walked him to the door.
“May I take you for a ride tomorrow? I shall have my brother’s cattle and rig.”
“Oh, yes, thank you! Should I have my maid ready?”
“No, it’s room only for two.” he continued to hold her hand and gazed down at her, his eyes darkening again.
Maria felt breathless and a little frightened. But it was a good kind of fear. And for the first time she began thinking of that side of marriage, the bed part.
Lord Harmon squeezed her hand and left.
That night at midnight, Charles picked up Mac at his lodgings. Mac had a box in his arms.
“Is that it?”
“It is.” Mac sat on the seat in the hackney, his posture relaxed, not holding the box. As the hackney rattled its way over the cobblestones, the box tilted one way and then another. Charles grabbed it and transferred it carefully to his lap. It was very heavy. Mac concealed a smile.
They got out a few blocks from the docks. Since Charles had the box, Mac let him carry it. It was amazing how heavy soot was.
Before they reached the Mary-Anne, Charles put the box in a dark corner. They pulled their hats down and went looking for the watchman.
They found him seated on a wooden box, his staff held loosely in his hand, his head against the side of the warehouse, snoring. Mac had put his mask on and gestured for Charles to do so. Charles fumbled the strings, he was so excited. Mac had to tie it for him.
Mac took the gag, an old handkerchief of Ailesworth’s Charles had taken out of Ailesworth’s room at Rathbone House. He slipped it over the watchman before he knew what had happened. Gurgles and grunts came out of his mouth and he struggled. Mac showed him the cosh and he quieted. He took the rope from Charles and tied him up. Then he bent over him and put his finger to his mouth and then used it to point to the cosh.
The watchman subsided.
Charles went back and got the box. He climbed the gang plank and disappeared with the gunpowder. Mac kept an eye on the watchman. He strolled over and pulled the watchman’s hat down over his eyes.
Then Mac took off his mask and shoved it into his pocket. Nothing like a mask to make you look like you were up to something nefarious. He whistled quietly as he strolled up and down beside the Mary-Anne.
Chas was taking his sweet time. Finally he appeared. All his clothes were black with soot, as were his hands. He hurried down the gang plank. He’d also taken off his mask. Black smudges adorned his face.
He pulled Mac aside. “That gunpowder is filthy stuff! What’s the time?”
Mac pulled out his watch. “It’s forty past the hour.”
“Good! Ailesworth should have received my message by now. I’ll wait aboard and hide myself.”
“And I’ll go. Have you your tinder box?”
Charles clapped his hand against his pocket. “No! What the devil—”
“Here. Take mine.” Mac had come prepared.
“Thank you! How could I—”
“I’ll take my leave. Good luck, Chas.”
“You won’t stay to see the fun?”
“No, thank you. Come see me tomorrow.”
“Yes. And thank you.”
They shook hands and Mac left, turning his face away from the watchman, who appeared to have gone back to sleep.
Charles climbed the gang plank again and hid himself behind the sail locker. Ah, well, it wouldn’t be long now. He took out his tinder box and waited.
Two hours later, he pulled himself up, his legs stiff. Ailesworth hadn’t come, the bastard.
Charles found the trail of gunpowder and squatted down. He took out the tinder box and started to work the flint. He got a spark just fine, but the tinder wouldn’t take at all.
The tinder was damp. Damn! Where could he find dry tinder? He tried the door to the hatch, but it was padlocked. He walked around the ship, looking for anything he could use.
There was nothing. Everything was locked up against thieves. Charles stood on the deck, slowly cursing under his breath.
It was hopeless. He’d better leave before the early dock workers showed up. He went down the gang plank, now at a steep decline and heard a voice. “Hey! What are you doing on board?”
Charles began running, dodging around the man and made for an alley. He was out of sight in seconds.
“Now what the devil….” The man broke off as he saw the watchman tied up. He took off the gag and pulled his hat back.
“Oh! Laws a’mercy! They overpowered me, they did! Two of ‘em. Big, brawny chaps. I saw one go on the ship with a box. Did the ship blow up?”
“No. It’s still there. Why would it blow up?”
“I dunno. Thought they mights be tryin’ to blow ‘er.”
The man went on board and saw the trail of black powder. He leaned over and felt it. It wasn’t gunpowder. It was soot mixed in with the sulpher, not charcoal. What the hell?
He came back and helped the old watchman to his feet. They slowly walked to the nearest chop house for a restoring mug of ale. He’d report to Hassam. Very puzzling, it was.
When Esther and Alma arrived at Planchet and Rye, a clerk took his time waiting on the women. She presented her father’s letter, explaining she needed to see Mr. Planchet or Mr. Rye. The clerk read the letter and his eyes popped out at the signature.
“Please! Lady Elizabeth! Be seated. I’m sure Mr. Planchet will be able to see you immediately,” and rushed away.
Esther had her mouth open to say, “Mrs. Beryll” but it was too late. The women sat and waited, aware of the interest of the clerks around them.
In a moment, a tall, handsome man came to greet them. “I’m Victor Planchet, my lady. Please come into my office,” and he led them into a richly furnished office.
As Esther took seat, she said, “I am now Mrs. Beryll, Mr. Planchet.”
He looked at her in some surprise. Then he nodded.
Esther turned to Alma. “My friend, Mrs. Nelson.”
He bowed. As he took his seat, he looked at Alma with his dark eyes. “I have sent a clerk to the basement to search for the parcel your father left with us. My father was here then and very likely received it. Let us hope he was orderly and it is with the rest of the Dramlee family papers.”
He ordered tea although the ladies declined any interest in it. Finally, a clerk appeared with cobwebs in his hair. “Sir! I found it. It was tucked behind a box of papers,” and he handed it to Victor Planchet.
Esther saw a filthy box, with a cobweb trailing from it.
“I’ll get a cloth, sir.” It was shortly wiped clean and again presented to Mr. Planchet.
“That’ll be all, Jeremy.”
As the clerk turned to leave, Esther smiled up at him and thanked him. He swayed a minute as he stared down at her. Then he blushed and left.
“Mrs Beryll, would you care to open it?”
She shook her head.
He studied it for a minute and then pressed a lever. The top sprang open. He rose and presented the box to Esther.
She leaned forward. It was full of diamond jewelry. “Look, Alma.” Esther pulled out a diamond necklace. It was beautifully designed with short silver chains holding stones of descending sizes, perfectly matched.
The women stared at it, entranced. Then Alma reached in and found a pair of earrings that matched the necklace in design. That was followed by bracelets and rings and a tiara.
“Mr. Planchet.” Esther had to clear her throat. “Do you have any idea of the value of these objects?”
“No idea at all. However, I could send you to a jeweler who could tell you.” He pulled out one of his cards and wrote on it. “Here. This man is completely reliable. You may feel safe with him.” He sipped his tea and looked at the two ladies across from him. Both so attractive. Particularly the voluptuous Mrs. Nelson. He wondered if he could find an excuse to visit them. He was sure he could if he put his mind to it. He smiled to himself.
Alma looked up from the glitter in Esther’s hand and smiled at Mr. Planchet. What a good-looking man he was!
Their eyes caught and their glance quickly became heated. Alma broke away and looked down unseeing at a ring on Esther’s hand. She was flushed. Oh, my!
Esther put all the jewelry back into the box. “Mr. Planchet, I don’t feel safe taking this with me.”
“Of course! I’ll ask Mr. Arnwasser to come here to see them. Would that be satisfactory?”
“Oh, yes!” She smiled at him. “I’d like to be here also. Is that possible?”
“Of course. I’ll send you a message.”
He rose and came around the desk to take the jewelry box from her and put it on his desk, closing the top. He frowned. “This should have been in the safe. I wonder why my father didn’t put it there.”
“Apparently he’d found a good hiding place,” Alma said.
He turned to her and smiled. “Yes, it was a good hiding place. We haven’t touched those papers since your father died, Mrs. Beryll. His Grace, the Duke uses a different firm of solicitors.”
“I doubt William has any business, Mr. Planchet. There’s nothing left of the family’s estates.”
“Land, Mrs. Beryl, there’s always land.”
“I suppose so.”
They were in the outer office. He bowed them out, trying to catch Mrs. Nelson’s eye, but failing.
Charles was depressed by his failure to blow up his brother’s ship. It had seemed so sure proof! But everything had gone wrong. And why hadn’t Ailesworth shown up? He’d found where Ailesworth would be at midnight and had paid a boy to deliver a message to him. Although the boy wouldn’t be allowed into Whites’s, Ailesworth’s club, he’d deliver the message to the porter.
Charles wasn’t to know that Ailesworth had left Whites at eleven to attend a ball. It was so unusual an action that the porter, who’d had the message delivered to Ailesworth’s lodgings, was sure he’d gone home. But Ailesworth’s friend, Michael Constant, had persuaded him to accompany him to his aunt’s ball. Ailesworth thought it was time to appear at a ton gathering. It had been a month or more since his last appearance. He found that if he didn’t show up now and then, the rumors about him would grow until he had horns, a tail and fangs, never mind the snout to put the fangs in.
So while Charles was crouched behind the sail locker, waiting for him in the cold night, Ailesworth was waltzing at the Satterthwait’s ball. When he and Constant entered the ball room, searching for their hostess, he’d had to fortify himself against the sudden smiles of the mamas at the sight of two prime pieces of matrimonial meat. Lady Satterthwait took them to meet her daughter and her friends and the men couldn’t escape dancing with them. Ailesworth had received the Satterthwait chit who wanted to faint or run away from the brawny man, a man who had once had a beard and who was called the Beast. She blurted out a comment on the weather and then turned dumb.
Fair enough, Ailesworth thought. The chit was pretty enough, except for an unfortunate tendency to an overbite. She’d make some skinny young man a good wife. He let out a chuckle at that thought.
She looked at him, alarmed. Was he getting ready to roar? Maybe she could faint now.
Luckily the music ended and Ailesworth could return her to her mama who was all smiles. He and Constant escaped to the card room by pulling Lady Sattertwait’s hands off their arms. They each blessed her with a smile as they left and she felt better.
They both lit up cigars in the crowded room and took brandies from the footman circling the room. “Safe,” said Constant, exhaling a long stream of smoke.
“Yes,” agreed Ailesworth. “For now.”
Constant turned and was surprised to see Ailesworth smiling. “You sound as though it’s an agreeable thing to be leg-shackled.”
Constant stared. He stepped closer to Ailesworth. “Don’t tell me you’re interested in the Satterthwait chit!”
“Oh, no. not her.” He smiled, knowing his friend was dumbfounded. He took a sip of brandy and drew on his cigar.
“Well, who? Is it that woman you met at Dunphy’s?”
“‘Lady,’ that’s what you meant to say, didn’t you, ‘lady’?”
Constant stared and then emptied his brandy glass down his throat. “Yes, it was ‘lady’ I meant to say. Well, is it?”
Ailesworth allowed himself a broad grin. “Yes, it is. And if you tell anyone, I’ll break all four of your legs.” He shot a malevolent glance at his friend.
“Never would I tell because you know why? No one would believe me. The Beast of the Forest is going to get himself married! I can’t believe it. Can I be there, when you marry? I must be there. Don’t leave me out, old friend.”
“I’ll leave you out if you don’t shut your yap.”
“No one heard us. Besides, we can say we were only funning.” He grabbed another brandy off the tray as it passed. “And that’s all it is, funning, isn’t it?” Constant, to his chagrin, saw some men enter the room, looking at them oddly. He leaned into Ailesworth and whispered, “They couldn’t hear me, could they?”
“No, but they think you’re drunk and spending far too much time with me, the Devil of the Docks. Let’s play some cards.”
The men spent the next few hours playing, Ailesworth winning and Constant losing, as he’d forget what he played, thinking of Ailesworth with a leg-shackle on him. Since he didn’t know Esther, he could only imagine poor Ailesworth, thin and scrawny, imploring some unseen female to release him, and it gave him the cold robblies.
* * *
Charles didn’t go out for several days. As he had no valet, it was the upstairs maid who had to clean Charles’ clothes. She complained to Belton, the butler. He felt the garments and sniffed them and decided it was soot Master Charles had been rolling in. He bade the maid ask the housekeeper for instructions in removing soot and retired to his butler’s pantry where he absent-mindedly cleaned some silver. It was time for a consultation.
He sent a note to Mr. Chambers, Lord Ailesworth’s man, and shortly received a response setting the time of two in the afternoon.
Promptly at two, Belton arrived at Ailesworth’s chambers. The two men greeted each other with all due formality, each feeling it incumbent on himself to support his master’s status. Then they sat in the parlor-Ailesworth being at the shipyard all day–and Mrs. Wilbur produced a very elegant tea. It was far more elegant than any she produced for her master. If Ailesworth wanted a tea, he wanted substance, not fairy cakes. But Mrs. Wilbur baked the most delicate fairy cakes in the world and Chambers and Belton deeply enjoyed them, along with the curly cress sandwiches and jam tarts.
It was a tribute Mrs. Wilbur and Chambers paid to the Earl’s house and Belton knew it and appreciated it.
As they settled back with their third cups of tea, Belton began. “I have been concerned of late, Mr. Chambers, by Master Charles’ behavior.”
“Yes. On occasion he is out all night but does not come home foxed.”
“Yes, it is very odd. One morning his clothes smelled of some chemical and of something unpleasant. The upstairs maid, Sally, was rather upset. Master Charles has no valet, and it falls to Sally to keep his clothes clean. She did not like it. She said his coat smelled of,” and here he lowered his voice, “‘smelled of the graveyard.’”
Belton sat back and nodded at Chambers, who stared. “Whatever?”
“Exactly, Mr. Chambers. And now, his clothes last night were covered in soot. Soot, Mr. Chambers! What can it mean?!”
Belton, pleased with the results of his news, sat back and sipped his tea. Mrs. Wilbur had already been in to bring hot water to warm the tea pot. A proper housekeeper, Mrs. Wilbur was.
Chambers said, “Soot? But where would he get soot?”
“Perhaps he’s taken up as a sweep.” The two men’s eyes caught and for a minute, laughter appeared and was suppressed.
“But the cemetery, Mr. B. That’s serious.”
“Yes, that was a few nights ago and hasn’t reoccurred. What bothers me is whether I should inform the Earl.”
“What could he do?”
“That is the question. He has been known to be, um, choleric in his responses. And a bit heavy-handed.
“For awhile, Master Charles had a rather unpleasant man, named Doggety, coming to the house. I did not like it. I found I could occasionally overhear them and I believe Master Charles was having his brother followed.
“I thought perhaps, if my lord Ailesworth knew all this, I wouldn’t need write a letter to his lordship, the Earl. The results, you know, are unpredictable.”
“Yes, Mr. Belton, I certainly agree. I shall tell Lord Ailesworth this evening.”
Mr. Belton was satisfied. Lord Ailesworth would keep the mouse in his hole.