Since his unfortunate accident with the gunpowder, Charles had hardly left Rathbone House. He had drunk brandy and whiskey and spent hours at the billiards table. When Ailesworth arrived, he was still in bed.
“My lord,” Belton said with a bow.
“Belton. Is my worthless brother here?”
“Yes, my lord. He is in his bedchamber.”
“Which is that?”
“He is in the Brown Room, my lord.”
Ailesworth looked at Belton. The staff must really dislike him, to put him in that dreary room. When the house had family and guests, the brown room was the last one allotted. And never to anyone with a naturally gloomy frame of mind. Maybe the room had driven him to that prank with the useless gunpowder.
What a mess it had been! The men he’d put to the task had been disgusted. Hassam told him they’d complained of the soot sticking to them all over.
“Why don’t you get him up, then. I’ll be in the breakfast parlor.” Ailesworth strode down the hall. He encountered a footman and said, “Coffee.”
The footman bowed and turned to scurry to the kitchen.
Ailesworth had always liked the breakfast room. It was full of the morning sun, when there was sun. And even without the sun, it was painted a cheerful yellow with decorations of tiny milkmaids, cows and flowers. Badly faded now, it was still pleasant.
He seated himself at the head of the table, where his father sat when he was in town. Well, that felt good. Although he expected his father to come in the door and bellow at him to get the-perdition-up.
The footman came in with a tray loaded with food, including a coffee pot. The coffee was steaming. Ailesworth noted to himself that the staff did well here, hot fresh coffee in the morning.
He helped himself to some scones and coffee and was enjoying himself when a disheveled and bleary-eyed Charles appeared.
Ailesworth looked at Charles. What a mess his brother was. “Come in and have some coffee. You need it.”
Charles slouched into the room and sat several chairs away from his brother. Ailesworth nodded to the footman who poured a cup of coffee for Charles. Charles shook his head at the toast the footman offered. Ailesworth signaled the footman to leave. He did and closed the door behind him.
“Drink your coffee.” Ailesworth’s voice was hard.
Charles hated obeying his brother in anything, but drinking the coffee was sensible so he did.
Ailesworth waited until Charles had drunk a cup of coffee with cream and sugar and poured himself another. “What possessed you to blow up my ship?”
“What ship? What are you talking about?”
“Don’t be a fool, Charles. I know about your clothes covered with soot and I have the description of the two men who sauntered around the shipyard the afternoon before. Who’s your friend, Charles? Where can I have the Runners arrest him?”
Charles glared at him. “I’ll not tell you. He is a friend. Leave him out of this.”
Ailesworth drank some more coffee and leisurely ate a scone. Not as good as Mrs. Nelson’s.
Charles finished his second cup of coffee. He waited for his brother to tell him what he was going to do to him. As Ailesworth ate his scone and supped coffee, Charles grew nervous. Then he decided he’d get nowhere being afraid.
“Yes, my friend helped me, but I’ll not tell you his name. I…” Charles stared at Ailesworth who had nodded his head. “I did it. It was all my doing. I wanted to destroy your favorite ship with you on it. Why didn’t you come when you received my note?”
“What note? I received no note!” Ailesworth voice was rising in anger. This was the second note he hadn’t received. He’d have to have a word with Chambers. A loud word.
“I sent a note to Whites.”
“It should have reached me. Damme! That’s irritating.”
Charles took a deep breath and continued. The coffee had fortified him. He’d helped himself to a third cup. “You aren’t fit to be an Earl. You ran off and left your father and mother and disappeared for years.”
“One year and she’s my step-mama.”
“Let me tell you she felt it. She thought you were dead. She prayed for you every day. She asked me to pray with her. You can imagine how I felt about that. I wanted you dead! But she was so good to me, I couldn’t refuse.
“When she and I were kneeling together in that bloody cold chapel, she would pray, sometimes aloud and I would recite dirty limericks to myself. I thought of cursing you as she prayed, but I was afraid the chapel roof would fall on us. That would be all right for me but not your step-mother”
“She’s your step-mother too.”
“Oh, God, yes. She’s always after me to call her ‘mother.’” He paused for a minute. “She’s very good to me.”
“But you want to be Earl.”
“I should be Earl! I’ve been at his side all these years, helping him as much as he lets me. I didn’t run away.”
“No, you didn’t. But you can’t go around trying to blow up my ships either.”
“No, well, I’ll not do that again.” Charles sagged.
Ailesworth thought he looked unwell. He wasn’t getting the exercise he needed. “I’ll send over a hack for you to ride. You need exercise.”
Charles’ eyes lit up for a second and then he stiffened. “You don’t need to do that.”
“Oh, but I shall. Step-Mama wouldn’t like it if you grew sick and died.
“Charles, would you want a job working for me? You could come in to the office and we’d see what fit you best.”
Charles stiffened. “Now you offer me a job? I would have welcomed the offer a few years ago, but now I’m insulted. What, work side by side with that foreigner, Hassil!”
“His name is Hassam and he’s a better man than you.” Ailesworth’s voice was pure steel. Any man at the docks hearing that voice would melt into a puddle. Not Charles.
“Hassam, then. I’d be under him, wouldn’t I?”
Charles sneered. “No, thank you, brother.”
Ailesworth stared at him for awhile. Then he decided it was hopeless, trying to help Charles. He got up and walked out of the room.
Charles remained still. That was it?
Then he sagged and thought, What am I to do?
There was great excitement at Fifteen Cargill Street. The movers were there, elbowing their way out of the house with the settee in their grip. Three women were on their knees rolling up the carpet in the parlor. The rest of the carpets came with the house, but this one Esther had kept from her life with Jacob. He had bought it for her. It didn’t hold any sentimental memories–it was just a good, thick carpet.
Once the carpet was rolled, Jessie cleaned the floor and Esther and Alma went back to taking things by hand to Furth Street: hat boxes, parcels of clothes that hadn’t fit into the trunks, vases and curtains. Mrs. Batson had stacked the pots and pans that belonged to Esther and Alma and the movers had brought some crates to pack them in.
On one of Esther’s return trips to Cargill Street, Jessie gave her a letter.
“Postman delivered it. He sez, ‘Movin’ house?’ and I sez, ‘Yes, to Furth Street. You’d better find it when the missus has mail’ and he sez, ‘If I get a kiss, I can.’ The nerve!”
Esther grinned at Jessie. “Don’t give out kisses unless you get them back.” She left Jessie staring at her and went into the house to open her letter.
She paused in the parlor. The sun streamed through the window. It was a mild day for early December.
Had she ever been as happy?. She reviewed her life and decided never. She had risen from the ruins of her family and felt, for the first time in years, proud to be a Dramlee. Since she’d come into her money, with the promise of much more, she had been able to forgive them all, including her mother. By forgiving them, she accepted the fact that she was a member of their family. She was a Duke’s daughter. And as a Duke’s daughter and a widow of twenty-six years, she’d taken a lover.
And what a lover! She knew she was smiling. And blushing. He’d explained the embarrassing moisture between her legs. Apparently it was good, very good. It made intercourse much easier and at the same time, aroused her partner. He explained that it meant that he was a good lover and every man wanted to know that. He’d growled when he’d said “good lover” and she’d dissolved into laughter. She thought he’d said it that way to ease her embarrassment.
He hadn’t lit any candles either. She’d asked him not to. She loved looking at him but felt shy about being naked. He said she’d get used to being worshipped. She giggled again but she still worried that her breasts were too big. Then he had made love to her again and it was clear that he loved her breasts.
That was when he had kissed and tongued her private parts. She started blushing. She must get the proper names from Alma. Alma had used them the night they’d had their talk but Esther didn’t remember any. She felt moisture again.
Lud! She’d best get her mind off love-making and see what her letter was about. Maybe it was from the Countess. No, she’d send a footman.
She opened it to find a letter from Kay. The Dunphys invited Esther and Alma to Elmscourt for the Christmas holidays. John Dunphy had come into an inheritance and before he could spend it all on horses and hounds, Kay got his promise to have a house party at the holidays.
How wonderful! It would be lovely to observe Christmas in the country. Maybe they would have snow.
Kay said that Lord Ailesworth was to be invited, too. Esther’s smile grew broader. And could they invite someone special for Mrs. Nelson? It was “high time she joined them at the table. She was so genteel.”
Of course Alma was genteel. She was more fastidious in her person and lady-like in her behavior than most ladies of the ton.
Esther was, if possible, happier than she had been before. She hurried out to Furth Street to find Alma. She found her on the first floor, cleaning the bedroom they’d assigned the children. It was at the back of the house looking down at the yard.
“Alma! Read this! Isn’t it wonderful? Who do you want Kay to ask for you?”
“Esther! Give me a minute,” and she took the letter to read, leaning against the window frame. Esther felt she could dance a jig, whatever that was, when Jessie’s voice shrilled up the stairs.
“Ma’am, Mrs. Beryll, Ma’am, the beds are here. From the warehouse. Here they come.”
Esther heard footsteps on the stairs and hurried out to greet the warehousemen, lightly carrying two beds with mattresses.
“In here. Alma, the children’s cots are here.”
They came into the room. “One here, and one there.” Esther pointed to the two sides of the room without windows or doors. “We’ll have a window seat or something, a desk! Here, under the window.”
One of the men stroked his jaw and looked at the space under the window. “Ma’am, we’ve got a desk back at the warehouse that would fit there..”
“You have? Alma?”
“But both children need space to do their homework.”
“Ah, then, two desks, facin’ each other.”
Alma and Esther looked at each other, then at the space under the window and then back at the man.
He went and stood where the facing desks would end. Not too far into the room.
Esther nodded. “That sounds good, but what about their toys? Where would they go?”
One wall had a wardrobe that would hold their clothes. They all turned to look at the corresponding empty space on the opposite wall.
“Shelves be good, ma’am. I’ve got a nice set of shelves go there fine.” He pulled out a tape measure and measured the empty space. “Aye, fit fine.”
“Good,” Esther said briskly. “Let’s have the desks and shelves. And chairs. Can you think of anything else, Alma?”
She shook her head, No. The men left. “Esther, we need sheets.”
“Why don’t you concentrate of getting this room ready. Here,” she shoved a wad of money into Alma’s hand, “take this. We need curtains, blankets and, whatever else you thinkto make them welcome.”
“I don’t suppose Lord Ailesworth has a bedroom decorated in bunnies and angels.”
Esther’s eyes danced. “Perhaps wallpaper of milkmaids and Jack and Jills climbing hills.”
“And Miss Muffet on a tuffet. What’s a tuffet, Esther?”
“I don’t know. I always thought it was a toadstool.”
Alma laughed. “No, it must be a rock on a hill.”
“But then she’d roll down,” and both of them laughed over the picture of Miss Muffet rolling down hill.
When they recovered, they discussed Kay’s letter. As Alma didn’t care to choose a gentleman to invite, Esther said she’d reply, accepting the invitation and saying they would be pleased with all and any who were there.
Their furniture didn’t begin to fill the bigger rooms in Furth Street. Esther decided that she needed to sell the tiara and buy more furniture.
After things were as settled as possible at Furth Street, Esther got her warm winter cloak, and told Jessie she was going to Mr. Arnwassers. “If Mrs. Nelson asks for me, tell her where I’ve gone.”
Esther found a hackney stand a few blocks away and gave the coachman Arnwasser’s direction. When she arrived, she told him to wait.
“Got to, h’ain’t I? No fare yet.”
She found Mr. Arnwasser in his back room, puzzling over a sapphire necklace.
Mrs. Beryll.” He stood and bowed to her.
“Mr. Arnwasser.” She took a seat before his work table. “That’s a handsome necklace,” nodding at the sapphires sparkling under the light.
“Yes, but the work,” he shrugged, “not as good as I’d thought.”
He put the sapphire necklace back in its box and rose to go to the safe. From it he took the bag with the tiara in it and put it on the black velvet under the light. He sat and gently removed the tiara.
In all the excitement of the past few days, she’d forgotten how spectacular the tiara was. The diamonds seemed alive, glowing with colors deep inside them.
“It is quite, um, quite….” she said when she could catch her breath.
Arnwasser’s eyes were fixed on the tiara. “I’ve cleaned the silver. That enhances the jewels.”
“Well. Yes, it does.” It was hard to take her eyes off it.
Finally, she looked up at Arnwasser. She cleared her throat.
He sat back and looked at her. “Are you still intent on selling it, Mrs. Beryll?”
“Yes, I am. Have you put a price on it, um, an estimate?”
He sighed. His eyes were back on the tiara. “News of this object has traveled through the ton at its usual speed. I have had half a dozen women and men in here, asking to see it and asking for a sales price. I have put them all off, saying the piece was not for sale. At the present time.
“They will be back. I’ve also posted a guard at night.” Esther gasped. “There has been one attempt to break in.”
“Oh! I had no idea.” This news only strengthened Esther’s resolve. “Mr. Arnwasser, I want to sell it and sell it at the best price I can get. How do I do that?”
“You could put it up for auction. I don’t recommend that as I don’t think the auctioneers are very skilled at dealing with jewelry.
“Instead, we could conduct our own auction, of sorts. I will let it be known that it is to be sold and that I’ve valued it at 12,500 pounds.”
“Oh, my! That’s a very large sum of money, sir. Will people pay that price?”
He smiled for the first time. “They will pay more. It will be amusing. I shall let the price be known and tell everyone who wants it that I must have the owner’s agreement. They will understand that the tiara is in play, so to speak, and they will be excited to bid against each other.”
Esther sat back. It was too much. Mr. Arnwasser watched her. Was she up to it? Her father had been a famous gambler but his daughter lived a very quiet life.
Esther turned the idea around in her mind. She couldn’t see how it could fail to provide her with the nest egg she wanted.
“And what is your fee, sir?”
“Will you show it to them?”
“No, out there. There’s a spot where the light is good and I do have another piece of black velvet.”
She smiled at him. “Let’s do it, then.”
“Do you have a mirror?”
“A hand mirror,” and he produced it.
“Do you have a bigger one out there?”
She picked the tiara up carefully and rested it on her head. Then she walked with slow steps to keep it from falling, into the shop, to the large mirror against one wall. She stared at herself. It was glorious. But she was too short to show it off in all its glory. It looked as though it would overshadow anyone who wore it.
Everyone in the shop had suspended their business at the sight of Esther in her glory. She became uncomfortable as she realized they were all staring at her and turned and walked back to Mr. Arnwasser’s office. She put it back on the velvet.
She put out her hand and Mr.Arnwasser, startled, took it. “Sell it, sir. Do the best you can. Here’s my new address, if you need to reach me.”
“I probably won’t consult you until I have several bids.”
“Yes. Thank you. I feel perfectly secure with it in your hands.”
“Thank you,” and he bowed his head and smiled.
By then, Esther had her bonnet on. She left his office.
“Mrs. Beryll, oh, Mrs. Beryll.” A fussily dressed woman came trotting over to her. “Oh, Mrs. Beryll, that tiara is divine. Are you thinking of selling it?”
“Mr. Arnwasser is taking care of that,” and Esther left the shop and climbed into the waiting hackney.
Lord Harmon had begun a serious courtship of Maria. He visited every other day, ate sparingly of the tea tray–still loaded with meat sandwiches–and took Maria for drives when he could cozen the cattle and rig from his brother. The more he saw her, the more he liked her. He encouraged her to talk about herself and her family and she slowly revealed her life with her family.
Her father had only become wealthy since the latter half of the wars. Before that, he had struggled, despite inheriting his business from his father. Maria was the youngest and clearly the most petted. There were still two brothers at home. They would go into their father’s business, too.
“My father sells more than mutton now. He sells hides and tallow and, and parts!”
“Parts of animals. Apparently it is a good business, I mean a money-making business.”
“Your father is a smart man, isn’t he?”
“Yes, he is.” Maria suddenly began plaiting her fingers together and looked away from him at the people in the park.
“What is it, Maria?”
“My lord, I think it best to tell you that I also help my father.”
“What do you mean? And you promised to call me Harmon.”
“Yes, Harmon. The first time my father wanted to invest in something new, not of the animal side,” she cast a beseeching glance up at him, silently asking him to forgive her father for selling pieces of animals, “my brother said no. My brother is my father’s business manager. Definitely not. Too risky.
“My father came home and told me of it. He’d taken to talking to me of the business, you see, the money part.” She looked at Harmon. He nodded. It was more complicated than that but noblemen didn’t care to bother their brain boxes with figures and sums.
“He had studied it and thought there was a good chance of success.”
“What was it?”
She looked at him with interest. Maybe Lord Harmon’s brain box was bigger than most nobleman’s. “It was a new farming tool. An improved plow. The man who designed it didn’t want much, only enough to make some plows and to try to sell them.
“Well, I studied it and I agreed with my father. It was a sound idea. However, it would need good men to sell it as farmers are notoriously slow to take on new ideas. I suggested he volunteer one or two of his best salesmen to sell it. You know, plow land with the old plow and then with the new. Papa had seen the plow in just such a demonstration and he was convinced.” And she fell silent, remembering that day.
“And did he invest his money?”
“Yes, he did. And it was a success. Not a huge success, but Papa is getting his money back, with interest.
“The thing is, Lord Harmon–”
“Harmon, just Harmon,” he said softly.
“Yes, Harmon. The thing is, I became Papa’s bookkeeper.” She flashed a glance at him and saw him smile.
“That’s your deep, dark secret?”
He threw his head back and laughed. She was amazed. He sounded so carefree. Lord de Sable never laughed. She grinned up at him.
“That’s a fine secret to have and I will keep it, my dear.” He smiled tenderly down at her and didn’t care if the whole ton saw him. He was showing his colors: Maria was his.
As they returned to Brunswick Square, Maria couldn’t believe she’d told him she was a bookkeeper! But it felt good. If he couldn’t accept her as she was, then there was no future for them.
But he’d smiled so sweetly at her and called her, “my dear.” At any rate, she felt relieved. If they were to marry, she wanted no secrets between them.