Esther had decided to make no plans until she knew the value of the diamonds. She insisted she didn’t want them, for where would she wear them? Alma thought she might want them: who knew what the future held in store? After all, Lord Ailesworth might propose or her aunt demand she go to some balls. Esther kept shaking her head.
When they arrived home, they discovered the Countess had paid a call, leaving a note telling Esther to come to tea the next afternoon. Esther made a face and insisted Alma accompany her.
The next morning, Esther said to Alma at the breakfast table, after Jessie had left them, “I will use one of those gaudy pieces to finance a move to a better house, Alma.”
Alma almost dropped her fork. “Esther, you can’t mean to sell them?”
“Oh, yes. What good are they to me? Where shall I wear them? Besides, I’m too short to wear a tiara.”
Alma had no response.
“My father didn’t even see that the letter would reach me. Suppose Aunt Marguerite hadn’t asked William to tea? Besides, I like being warm. I’d sell them all to keep warm! When you are through with breakfast, I’d like to talk to you in the parlor.”
“Of course.” Alma was alarmed. What could Esther need to talk about? She noticed for the first time that Esther had shadows under her eyes and her eyes were very bright.
Shortly after, Alma left the parlor and went upstairs to her room. She had to sit down, the better to understand Esther’s decision. Downstair a note had arrived via a tall footman. He bowed to Esther and gave it to her. “From Mr. Planchet, ma’am.”
She opened it. “Very good. Tell your master that the hour he proposes is agreeable. Do you need a written response?”
“Yes, Mrs. Beryll.”
She wrote a few lines on the bottom of his note and returned it to the footman, who bowed and left.
“Two o’clock, Alma. This afternoon.” Alma had begun to recover from the bomb Esther had exploded under her and had come downstairs. Through the window she watched the footman climb up beside the coachman.
“He should be handsome, that footman, but he isn’t.”
“Alma, what do you mean?”
“Don’t most who can afford it, hire tall, handsome footmen?”
“Mr. Planchet has a tall, plain footman.”
Esther smiled. “You think he likes the contrast?”
Alma nodded. “So there’s no real comparison.”
Promptly at two, Mr. Planchet’s coach arrived with the same footman on the back. As Mr. Planchet descended to come into the house, the footman climbed into the carriage.
When the women climbed into the carriage, the footman exited by the opposite door. They looked at Planchet with a question in their eyes.
“It may not be necessary, but I think it better to have the diamonds guarded at all times.”
“Oh, yes, a good idea,” Esther agreed.
As the carriage started, Alma looked up at Mr. Planchet as he settled himself across from them. His caught her look. She couldn’t seem to break away and then Esther spoke, breaking the spell.
“It’s very kind of you to take us to the goldsmiths.”
“He insisted he needed his tools and that he had the proper light for an examination only in his workshop.” Planchet shrugged. “I thought it a good idea to humor him. Many people consider him the best gem expert in the city. Dutch, you know.”
Esther nodded as though she did know.
As they drove through London to Cannon Street, Mr. Planchet introduced
innocuous topics for conversation but Alma questioned him about his career and he fell into that topic happily. By the time they reached Mr. Arnwassser’s shop, she knew a lot about him.
They all, including the footman, trooped into the shop. Mr. Arnwasser, a thin man with a considerable stoop, greeted them and led them into the back room. There, on his desk, he had two oil lamps lit. Between them he had a collection of mirrors which greatly intensified and directed the light downwards. He took the box from Mr. Planchet and sat down. After opening the box, he carefully withdrew one piece after another, putting them on a piece of black velvet between the two lights.
One by one, he raised the pieces to his eye, into which he’d fixed a small magnifying glass. He never made a sound until he examined the tiara, the last of the pieces. Then a tiny “oomph” escaped. He spent what seemed like an very long time examining the tiara.
Finally, he put it down and removed the glass from his eye. “Ma’am, Mrs. Beryll, what you have here are the D’Enguillen diamonds. They were a noble family who escaped from France with their jewels and sold them here. The problem with them is that all of these,” here he swept all the jewelry except the tiara to one side, “are paste.”
Mr. Arnwassser nodded. “But they are the finest paste diamonds I’ve ever seen. They could only be the work of an Italian, possibly Carando in Milan.
“The question is, if the D’Enguillens brought them to England, when were the paste jewels made? The answer,” he happily pontificated, “is before they left France. So do you have a noble family believing they are escaping with their exquisite jewelry of great value, or had they themselves had copies made sometime before?”
“And the tiara?” Esther asked.
“Oh, Madam, this is marvelous. The diamonds are all real and the workmanship…” He sighed and shook his head.
The three people sat and stared at the glitter on the velvet.
“But they match,” Alma said.
“Not quite. The tiara doesn’t quite match the others.”
“What are the paste diamonds worth, Mr. Arnwasser?”
He fingered them gently for a minute. “Several hundred pounds. They would pass muster with most jewelers.”
“I’d like to sell them. The tiara….”
“The tiara, madam, is worth thousands of pounds. If you wish to sell that, I can arrange for it. It would take some time, however.”
“Can I sell the paste ones today?”
At Mr. Arnwassser’s nod, Esther nodded firmly and he left the room.
Mr. Planchet looked at Esther in surprise. “You’ve no desire for these, Mrs. Beryll?”
“No. I go nowhere to wear them and having them about the house would make me nervous.”
Alma stood and picked up a ring she admired and tried it on.
“Alma! Of course! You must take that ring.
“Absolutely. I never cared for jewelry the way you do. Alma, it would give me such pleasure to gift you with it.” She stood and took Alma’s hand.
Tears came to Alma’s eyes and she impulsively hugged Esther. They both were a little teary-eyed when they separated. Mr. Planchet kept his eyes on the jewelry.
Mr. Arnwassser came back into the room with cash in his hand. He went to hand it to Esther who stopped him, explaining she had given a ring to her friend. Mr. Arnwassser examined the ring, removed two twenty pound notes from his hand and gave the rest to Esther.
“I’d like to examine the tiara further. May I keep it here? It will be in my safe except when I’m examining it.”
Two pairs of eyes went to Mr. Planchet. “That would be satisfactory.” He turned to Esther. “Whether you keep the tiara or not, it would be best to know its value.”
After receiving a receipt for the tiara, they left Mr. Arnwassser itching to examine the tiara again. They asked Mr. Planchet to drop them off at the D’Aellen town house. They went into the house, pleased and excited by their adventure.
Everyone noticed Ailesworth’s change of mood. Hassam even caught him whistling. Although fair in his dealings with all the people who worked for him, his temper required watching. Ever since he’d met Mrs. Beryll, he’d been easy to get along with. Until their falling out when he truly became the Beast.
Now he was a lamb. Hassam brought up several sticky issues he’d put aside while Ailesworth was roaring like a lion with a thorn in its paw. The issues were resolved with Ailesworth taking responsibility for most of them.
At four o’clock, he paid a visit to Cargill Street. Jessie was delighted to see him, but told him the ladies were out.
“I’ll wait, Jessie. Tea, please.”
“Yes sir, my lord,” and she went galloping downstairs.
Ailesworth settled on the settee, perfectly happy in this cozy little room, warm from its fire. He grinned at the coal glowing red in the grate. He suspected Jessie had piled it high. The whole room, though, was Esther’s: the gay scarf on the settee, the watercolors on the wall. All made him feel he was near her, surrounded by her. He basked in that feeling.
The ladies arrived home after he had eaten three scones and drunk two cups of tea. He heard Jessie tell them he was in the parlor.
“My lord.” Alma came in.
“Ailesworth! We have good news!” Esther looked magnificent. The cold day had put roses in her cheeks and a sparkle in her eye.
“And what news is that?” He almost called her his darling.
They sat. “Yesterday I received notice my father had left me some jewels. We went to see them and today had them appraised by Mr. Arnwasser. Do you know of him?”
“Yes, he’s very knowledgeable. And has some fine jewels himself.” Perhaps he could buy a ring for Esther there.
Esther bounced in her chair, she was so eager to tell her story. “He said most of my diamonds were paste, although very fine paste. She pulled out the notes from her reticule. “I sold them and got this money.
“And with the money, Alma and I are going to rent a larger house so we can take care of those children. Assuming you’ll pay for their support.” She ended with a questioning note in her voice.
“Of course. But can we back up a bit? These were family diamonds?”
“Oh, no. Father won them gaming.”
“And you came across them—”
“William, my cousin, had a letter from Father and Aunt Marguerite gave it to me.”
“And it led you to….”
“A solicitor’s office where the gems were.”
“You said ‘most’ were paste?”
“Yes, there’s a tiara which has real diamonds.”
“It’s not here, I hope,” said Ailesworth, looking around the room and then at Esther’s reticule.
Esther laughed. “No, you silly. It’s at Mr. Arnwassers. He’s going to evaluate it, or what ever you call it.” Esther laughed again. “All this is new to us. Isn’t it, Alma?”
Then she jumped to her feet. “Show him the ring, Alma,” and took Alma’s hand.
Ailesworth looked at the glorious ring of one large diamond surrounded by exquisite small ones. “I would have assumed it was real.”
“I should have asked you about taking the children, not told you.”
“Esther, I am so grateful. I admit, I brought them here hoping to entice you into helping me, but I didn’t expect you’d keep them. And to move house?”
She waved her hand as though it was of no concern. “There’s a house around the corner for rent. On Furth Street. I asked a neighbor yesterday if she knew if it had three bedrooms and she said it does. She described the house in detail. It was better than looking at it!
“I’ve sent a note to the name on the notice. Tomorrow we’ll view it.
“Well, my lord Ailesworth, what say you to that?” Esther grinned at him, her hands on her hips, looking like a girl of sixteen.
“I say you’re smarter than a room full of Jack Sharps. Much smarter, come to think of it.” He grinned back at her, pleased she was happy.
Alma beamed on the two of them like the good old lady in the shoe.
They settled to talk of rents and how much Ailesworth should pay in support. Too much, Esther said, but couldn’t nay say him. Alma found a way to slip out of the room. She was happy for Esther’s sake–and her own. The money was a Godsend–but her heart ached a bit. Esther had found her lover, and what a lover he was! But what was Alma to do? She went downstairs to the kitchen to find some home comfort.
The temperature of the room changed once Alma had left. Ailesworth knew his look was hungry. Esther came and sat on the settee beside him. He was surprised but pleased.
Her eyes were on the scarf that lay on the back of the settee and her finger traced the pattern of green against the blue.
“Ailesworth, I’m a well-to-do widow now. My father’s gift has changed my circumstances. I don’t need anyone’s gift of coals.” She glanced up at him briefly.
Ailesworth had come, half decided to propose to Esther, but the excitement over the diamonds determined him to wait. He didn’t want to be an addendum to an exciting day.
He said nothing.
“Once I’ve sold the tiara, I’ll be a woman of consequence.” She sneaked a look at him. He remained impassive. He wanted to see where she was going.
“Alma and I will truly be independent women.” Esther straightened. “We will be free to choose our, um, associates, our friends, I mean.”
Ailesworth was completely bewildered now. It had seemed that they were free to choose their friends before. Except for Stables, Esther didn’t have unwanted guests. Did she?
“Has Stables been annoying you?”
“Who? De Sable? No, I haven’t seen him in awhile.” Or so it seemed.
Ailesworth relaxed back in his seat.
“Why? Oh! Because I said we could choose our friends. I’m not being clear, am I?
“No, you’re not.” He grinned at her. He was happy to have her talk at him.
“I must back up. I must tell you of my sisters. Henrietta and Julia both married. Both husbands became insolvent and they had to flee to the Continent along with their wives. Then came the Revolution and my parents feared they were dead.
“Next they heard from Julia she was in Italy and wrote under the name of Madame de something or other. My parents assumed her husband had died and she’d remarried. Then they heard from Henrietta, asking for money; she was also in Italy. Returning travelers told everyone that they were both mistresses of impoverished Frenchmen. And their husbands weren’t dead. Later, travelers said they were mistresses of a Hungarian arms dealer and a Jewish banker.
“That was when I left Dramlee Park or nearly. The last tale Jacob told me. He was amazed and somewhat proud to be the relative of such well-known figures. I told him I never wanted to hear of them again. And I haven’t. I don’t know if they are alive or dead.”
She looked at him. He nodded. He didn’t know why she had told him this. He’d heard vague rumors of them but had never been very interested. Somehow, though, this tale was important to her, to the two of them. A small, happy idea appeared in his brain. Could she mean….?
“So you see, there was always the shameful knowledge of my sisters and their decadent way of life. It stood in my way.”
She got up to pace. “When I was married, I wanted respectability above all else. I was married to Jacob to escape the hands of a degenerate. My father’s house was full of gamers, half or wholly drunk. My nurse, Jessom, was a Methodist and read the bible. I could hear her reading about the filth of Sodom and the evils of Baal. All were under my father’s roof and she prayed for cleansing.”
She paused at the window where outside a few gas lamps flickered weakly.
“So I sought respectability and found it for five years, and I lived it for five more years with Alma as my friend. Now I realize what I wanted was independence, real independence with money behind me, dependent on no one.”
His heart fell a few degrees.
“I was awake all last night, going over the past again but now as a person of means, a woman of means. I realized I was free, free of my horrible family, the Dissolute Duke and his Duchess and those two whores, my sisters. But I understand them. No doubt they needed to survive. And what has a woman to sell but her body.”
She also thought of her barren five years with Jacob. Never once had she quickened with life. Her barrenness had helped lead her to her decision today.
“I forgive them all. I don’t need to live my life in contrast to theirs anymore, to be the one ‘good’ Dramlee.
“For I am a Dramlee. I am a Duke’s daughter. And I shall act as one.”
Now that she’d gotten this far, she couldn’t find the words to phrase her request. She stood and stared up at him, feeling not like an independent Dramlee.
“Esther, my Esther. Do I dare put into words what I think you desire to say?” He gently took her arms in his hands and then slid them up to her shoulders and rested them there. “You must tell me, my darling. I am afraid of the fierce daughter of the Dramlees. She might lose her formidable temper and dismiss me.”
“No! Ailesworth, no.” She moved into his arms and raised hers to encircle his neck. She whispered now. “I want to lie with you, Ailesworth. I can never pass an hour without longing for you. I remember and cherish the pleasure you gave me. Could I please have more?”
He slowly pulled her to his chest. Then one hand went down to her luscious bottom and he pressed her against his erection.
She gasped as she felt it against her belly and shuddered. She would have sagged to the floor if he hadn’t such a fierce grip on her. The large hand on her bottom began massaging her. She gasped again and forced her legs to hold her.
“Ailesworth! Not now.” She pulled back but his arms held her. “I hadn’t thought of the mechanics of it.” She blushed.
He laughed. “Mechanics, indeed. Let me tend to mechanics. Shall I come here? Or would you prefer a private house somewhere?” He stroked her back.
“I hadn’t thought. But what say you to my story?” She was a tiny bit irritated that he’d made no response to her confession and change of heart. It was so earth shattering to her.
He pulled back and examined her. It was important to her, he saw. He was indifferent to her family. They could have been dock workers for all he cared.
“I think you are an exceptional woman. On the basis of new information, you are able to draw a new conclusion. Very few men are able to do that.”
She was startled. She had done that but since the new thought processes and new conclusion had been such emotional events, she hadn’t considered it.
“And you are brave, to act on your conclusion.” He began kissing her. “I love brave women. They are exceptionally pleasant to kiss.”
“No, Ailesworth. We must plan,” and she struggled to get free of him.
“He sighed. “You’ve done that, my love. Now’s the time to act.”
“I’ve just decided that we will meet here. I shall tell Mrs. Batson and hope she doesn’t mind an irregular household. I don’t want you to leave at two in the morning. I want to sleep beside you.
“Oh, Ailesworth, how I have wanted your beautiful body beside me!”
He ignored her squeak of protest and wrapped his arms around her like iron bands. She struggled at first and then gave up and let his incredible warmth encompass her. She wanted him to surround her with his heat and fell the heavy press of his body bearing her down. She blushed at her thoughts.
Ailesworth had never felt better. Esther was his. He finally allowed himself to recognize his feeling for her: he loved her. How simple, yet so overwhelming. He wouldn’t tell her yet. He wouldn’t propose marriage yet either. It would surely take away from Esther’s brave decision. He’d let her enjoy it and let her think he was a ruffian–too coarse and too beastly to ever love a lady.
He smiled to himself as his hand stroked her back. He was going to enjoy himself, in more ways than one.