No one in the office of Manchester Shipping, a name Ailesworth had picked out of the air, knew that Drum, one of the three partners of Ailesworth’s shipping firm, was a viscount. And Drumford Grainger kept his connection to ships and the cargo they carried, a secret from the society of bucks and bloods he spent his time with. His position was of great importance to the concern; he was privy to gossip of all kinds, including political gossip that helped the firm know how changes in Parliament or the government would affect their business. Besides that, his capital had been crucial to Ailesworth after he’d invested in two more ships to his fleet of what was then two ships several years ago. A small loss on a cargo of cotton,some of which was spoiled in transit,brought Ailesworth to near bankruptcy. He’d overextended himself. At that time, Drum, an old school friend, had sought him out and hinted that he might be interested in investing.
With relief, Ailesworth had agreed and they’d worked out an informal partnership which saved the firm. Later, Ailesworth was approached by Captain Alwyn Evans who owned two ships. Evans had come to the realization that he could do better if he didn’t have to spend so much of his own time on bookkeeping and negotiating with shippers. He approached Ailesworth and after Ailesworth talked it over with Drum, they agreed upon a merger. This time they used a solicitor to draw up a formal agreement. Evans knew, of course, who Drum was but very few people knew of Drum’s active interest in commerce. He said it was because he would do better if people didn’t know of his direct association with a shipping firm, but there was a part of him that was a bit ashamed of this connection. He didn’t think it proper to be as interested as he was in making money. He’d come to realize, however, that he felt most himself, most alive, in the time he spent with Ailesworth and Evans, at the docks and when reading balance sheets. He worked at his reputation as a titled rake but actually spent little time gambling or wenching. He did gamble and flirt enough to let people believe that he spent all his time that way. It amused both him and Ailesworth to see how easily it was done.
After Ailesworth’s visit, Esther went upstairs to do some mending. She couldn”t settle to it, though, and kept putting it down and walking to the window to look out. There was nothing new to see in the darkening street below. The few gas street lights had not been lit yet. She saw Alma walking home from the grocers, a package under her arm. She would bring it to Cook and spend some time in the warm kitchen. It was cold in Esther’s room. She tucked her hands under her arms, trying to warm them. Her hands always seemed to be cold.
She looked around her at her bedroom. The wallpaper was old, soft rose and blue. The pattern had faded and left the worn colors behind. She had cleaned it with a ball of dough, pressing against the wall again and again to sponge off the dirt. Her windows had sheer curtains with fine, thin drapes of rose that matched the bed hangings. It had always been a place of comfort to her.
Now, her room, her house appeared smaller since her recent visit to the Dunphys. It was Ailesworth’s fault. She had been happy, she assured herself, before she’d met him. Coming into her home like that, all fine clothes and shine. And his scent, so clean and fresh and masculine. She felt her hand on the warm skin of his chest again and shivered. She’d better go downstairs where there would be people to distract her.
The roses were gloriously silky and sweet-smelling. She’d never received flowers from a man before. At dinnertime, she moved the vase into the dining room. She knew she was being silly, but it seemed as though she couldn’t get enough of them.
Two days later, there was a knock on the front door. Esther was nearby, so she opened it. A brawny man stood there, a wagon on the street in front of the house.
He grunted and handed her a card. It was soiled but it was Ailesworth’s card, with an A scrawled on it.
Esther looked up to see him carrying a bushel basket of oranges up the steps.
“Where d’ye want’em?” He stood there holding the basket as though it contained only a feather.
“I, um, come in,” and flustered Esther opened the door wide. “Follow me.” She led him to the back stairs and down to the kitchen.
“Mrs. Batson!” and Esther stood aside for the man to put the basket on the scrubbed kitchen table. He looked around the kitchen obligingly, as though considering a purchase.
Mrs. Batson’s mouth was open. “Ma’am! Those are ours?”
“Yes. I don’t think I can refuse them.” She looked inquiringly at the man.
“Lord Ailesworth said to leave ’em at the back door if you refused ’em.”
“Thank you. Wait a moment.” She searched her pocket for a penny or two.
“No, Ma’am. Paid me well, he did. I weren’t to accept nothin’ from you.”
His eyes were on the teapot, however.
Mrs. Batson said, “A cup of tea, then. Sit and I’ll give you a cup. Don’t suppose a scone would go wrong, either.”
He sat and smiled.
Esther took two oranges with her and went to find Alma. “Look, Alma. Oranges! From Ailesworth.”
She raised the orange to her nose and breathed in deeply. “Oh Alma, it smells of Spain!”
Alma laughed but took a sniff too. It smelled wonderful. “Let’s get some fruit knives and eat them.”
“Yes!” The two women went to the dining room, found two plates and two knives and immersed themselves into cutting and eating their oranges. For dinner, they had orange pudding, with cream. A great indulgence.
On a quiet street near Grosvenor Square, the town house of the Earl of Rathbone had a newly arrived resident. Charles Miggs was seated at the table in the breakfast parlor and was consuming a plate laden with eggs, deviled kidneys, sausages and buttered toast.
“Belton, old chap, I’m expecting a visitor this morning. I’ll see him whenever he arrives.”
Belton, the butler, nodded frigidly and left the room. The single footman stood against the wall, his face blank.
Charles, having been raised by his mother in a cottage for the first nine years of his life, had never gotten used to having servants stand around silently while he ate. He found himself eating either slowly and carefully or else gulping great mouthfuls in order to finish and leave their silent scrutiny. This morning was a gulping morning. He did, however, love to signal to the footman with a finger for a refill for his coffee cup. The footman moved the cream pitcher closer to Charles and Charles helped himself generously. Then the footman moved it a little way away from Charles. It irritated him but he knew he shouldn’t even notice. He was sure the footman did it to aggravate him. The servants had never treated him properly and it galled him. After all, he was a son of the Earl’s, as much as that damn Ailesworth was. But they fell all over themselves waiting on Ailesworth on his rare visits while they seemed to ignore him. If he, Charles, ever became Earl, they’d treat him differently.
Since the Earl never came to London and there was no one to oversee the care of the house, it was dull and dark. Everything on the ground floor was spotless but the furniture was old and had been out of fashion for forty years. The servants seemed intent on using as few candles as possible or so Charles believed. He had to order more candles in every room he used. He went into the library after breakfast and saw there was no fire lit. Since it was laid, ready for a spark, he lit it himself and then lit the candelabra on the desk and on the wide mantlepiece. It was a dull and drizzly day. He grimaced at the portrait hung over the fireplace: Ailesworth at seven with his mother. Charles always thought Ailesworth’s mother a sorry looking thing, pale and thin with masses of hair that looked too heavy for her neck. She had been ill for some time when the portrait was painted and only agreed to be included because her husband wouldn’t have the painter do a portrait of Ailesworth alone. Charles smiled and straightened himself. Ailesworth was never the son to the Earl that Charles was. The Earl used to complain all the time about his son. Recently, however, Charles had noticed, the Earl had said very little about Ailesworth to him. Charles knew that the Earl had informants in London. Although he hadn’t been here for years, he kept tabs on his heir. It made Charles uneasy to think that the Earl might be softening towards Ailesworth. His father had seemed indifferent when Charles said he wanted to go to London for a few weeks. He’d had to get an advance on his quarterly allowance from his father to pay for the trip.
Charles wandered the library. He’d never been very interested in reading but decided to read the paper. He’d see if any of Ailesworth=s ships had come in.
To see Charles sitting in the leather chair next to the fireplace, long legs crossed at the knees, turning the pages of the paper, an observer would swear he belonged to the house and all in it. Charles was more handsome than his brother although not as tall. He had good carriage but since he had done no hard work since he’d come to live with the Earl, his body was softer than Ailesworth’s. His hair and eyes were brown. His eyes usually had a guarded expression in them, but, here in London, he often looked irritable. Without his father’s presence here, he was uncomfortable.
Belton opened the door and came in. “A person who says his name is,” there was a slight pause, “Doggety, is here to see you, Mr. Miggs.”
“Yes, yes. Show him in.” Charles was peremptory.
Belton turned and found Doggety at his back. “Mr. Doggety, sir.” The “sir” was said rather softly. The door closed behind Belton, before Charles could order some coffee.
Doggety! What news have you?
Doggety rubbed his hands together, making a harsh rasping sound. Powerful cold out there, Mr. Miggs.
Charles thought he’d avoid Belton and coffee altogether and poured a half glass of brandy for Doggety.
“Oh! That does it. Proper warms a man up,” and he drank it down and held out his glass to Charles for more.
Charles frowned but poured more, not quite as much as before, into Doggety’s glass. “Now, have you any news?”
“Well, that person,” the two men exchanged a look, “that person is back in town from his huntin’ trip. Back in his lodgin’s and back in his office.”
“Good. What about Madame DuPres? Has he seen her again?”
“Now, I think that there arrangement is over. She’s been seen out about with Lord Elkton. Fine pair of cattle he has,” and Doggety wiped his chin.
“I wonder who will be next.” Charles paced the room. “He probably has someone in mind. It=s not like him to be long without a woman.” Charles had always kept himself knowledgeble about Ailesworth’s doings and was covertly proud of Ailesworth’s reputation. After all, he was a brother. Everyone knew that he usually kept a mistress although seldom for long. Charles would have kept a mistress himself but he didn’t have the funds for it.
“I won=t need you for awhile, Doggety. I know where to reach you if I need you later.” Charles handed Doggety some coins. Doggety nodded and swallowed the rest of the brandy. He nodded again and left the room. Belton opened the front door for him and looked down his nose as he did it. Doggety smirked at him. Belton wondered again if he should inform the earl of the visits of this man, Doggety. The earl’s temper was uncertain, however, and Belton determined to hold his peace for the time being
Charles paced the library for another half hour. He wasn’t sure what he would do with the information he collected about his brother. At first he had hoped to find Ailesworth out in something illegal so he could lay an anonymous report to the magistrate, but Ailesworth never appeared to do anything illegal and Charles was frustrated. He hated paying out money when there had been no satisfactory results. The money was hard to come by. Although his father paid him a satisfactory quarterly allowance, he could cut no dash with it. Since the Earl never came to town, he refused to keep an up-to-date carriage at all. There were only two carriage horses and two mounts in the stables, none of them worth anything. How could his father be so stingy, he wondered for the thousandth time.
He rang for Belton, who was maddeningly slow, and ordered a mount. When he went out to the stables twenty minutes later, the horse was only then being led out of his stall. Charles shouted at the groom and finally got away to reconnoiter on his own.
George Aurdley was Alexander de Sable’s cousin. He was of medium height but appeared shorter as he was thick-bodied. His hair was a nondescript brown and his eyes a washed-out blue. He was of a cadet branch of the family which counted for very little with the de Sables. George hadn’t liked his family very much. They pinched pennies and both envied and sneered at their de Sable cousins who seemed to live on credit. As soon as he could, he got a job at fourteen as a law clerk in the firm of Carruthers and Smythe. He worked long hours and did any task given him. Mr.Carruthers was pleased and piled more tasks on him, more difficult tasks.
George didn’t complain. He needed little sleep. What Mr. Carruthers didn’t know, was that George used the hours of the night to read through old boxes of family records. He was informing himself of details of his firm’s noble families, but he seemed to smell out any hint of scandal. He did nothing with the information he found until he came to the D’Aellen papers. Putting together the information in the papers together with some notes of Mr. Carruthers=s he’d read on his desk, he formed a plan.
He’d have to contact his cousin, Alexander de Sable. Happy, as happy as he could be, he went out to find some ale and cheese. There was no need to go home. He’d sleep an extra hour or two tomorrow night.
George Aurdley sent a note to his cousin, Alexander, to meet him at the King Charles Tavern. “Something to your advantage,” it said.
Alex had nothing better to do and mayhap George would pay for the ale. The tavern had a mix of customers from the surrounding neighborhood, none of them wealthy. Like all decent taverns, there were no women present.
Alex was halfway through his first tankard of ale when George came in. George dressed carefully, the picture of a law clerk. No wasp waists or high shoulders for him, plain black except for his cravat which was tied in a simple fashion. To Alex’s disgust, George had only one goal: making and saving money. George lived in one room above a coach house, usually ate from street peddlers for pennies and worked eighteen hours a day.
George joined him, as silent as a shark swimming into a school of mackerel. Alex shifted in his chair. George always made him feel uncomfortable.
“What ho, George.”
George nodded and told the waitress he wanted dinner: mutton with greens and potatoes. The waitress looked at Alex. He looked at George. George scowled and nodded.
“The same, my pretty miss,” said Alex.
The stout girl blushed and hurried away. Alex took a swallow of ale and regarded his cousin. Short brown hair, small eyes, no expression on his face. Alex felt sorry for him, he led such a dull life as a law clerk.
Their meal came and both set to. They worked through their plates like good trenchermen. Then George ordered more ale. He sat back and regarded de Sable, who wielded an ivory toothpick and looked around the room with no interest.
“I hear you’ve been hunting in Berkshire.”
“Yes. How did you know that?”
“Nothing of interest happened. Very dull, the Dunphys.”
“There was a lady present.”
“Yes. Mrs. Beryll. Why?”
“Is she attractive?”
“Yes, quite lovely. What’s this about?”
“I can point you to a good thing, but we need to be clear.” George leaned over. “I’ll expect 20 per cent.”
De Sable was completely confused. “Twenty per cent of what?”
After checking that no one was near, George began talking in a low, unhurried voice to de Sable, whose eyes widened.