The coachman, having regained consciousness on the trip, endured his pain as he was carried to a bedroom in the servants quarters where he could be attended. The doctor set his leg, putting it in a splint, and gave him some laudanum for the pain.
Adam and Marcus found Lilly to inquire about Rachel. There was a thorough search made, with the conclusion she had left in a hurry. During the search, some of the girls notice their jewelry was missing.
"I'll borrow Lance's curricle, and look for her. She must be planning on getting on a coach in the village," Marcus, said.
"I'll go with you," Adam said, "She might have killed Sarah, and I don't want her to get away with this! Too bad, I can't challenge her to a duel," he said angrily.
When the women heard Marcus was going after her, they all pleaded for him to bring her back, to see what she had taken with her.
Sarah was stunned when she had heard the carriage mishap was not an accident. Adam had given her just a quick review of what Rachel had done, but Sarah felt it hard to believe that she would be capable of such treachery that could cause serious injury.
Everything that has happened recently . . . Jason's leaving, the fire, Sir Vincent's death, and Rachel's revenge had all started when she uncovered the cheating. No, she would not feel guilty, Sarah convinced herself. It was right to have notified Lilly when she found the discrepancy. After all that Lilly had done for her, she could not stand by and let her be cheated. Jason had been the culprit. If he had only been honest and refused to aid Sir Vincent, none of this would have happened.
Sarah's anxious thoughts were interrupted when Lance put his hand on her arm.
"Come, let's find Gayle. I spoke to Marcus before he left, and he thought it was an excellent idea to give Gayle the opportunity to change her occupation," Lance said. Putting a hand on Sarah's elbow, he led her back to the parlor.
Gayle was sitting on the cushioned window seat watching the men leave when Lance and Sarah called to her. She turned and smiled at them.
"I say, Gayle, you are just the one I was looking for," Lance said, displaying a captivating smile. "Would you be interested in a job like Sarah's? Marcus and I will be needing someone to take care of our finance records when we open for business."
Gayle stared at him wide-eyed, with her mouth opened in surprise. Did he really ask her to work for him? She had always liked Lance, but he had never paid any attention to her.
Lance looked into the astonished golden brown eyes, and then at her rose-tinged lips, before he reached out with his index finger and lifted her chin, closing her mouth. He was beginning to see Gayle from a whole new perspective, he mused.
"You want me instead of Sarah? she squeaked, not believing what she had heard.
"Well, actually, my dear, Sarah is getting married," he answered.
"Oh . . . I see. Congratulations, Sarah," she said, lowering her eyes so they would not see her disappointment. Sarah's not available, that's why he asked me, Gayle thought miserably.
Realizing his faux pas, Lance contritely added, "Of course, if we knew you were mathematically inclined, we would have asked you sooner."
"Oh Gayle, this is a great opportunity for you, please say yes," Sarah encouraged, glancing at Lance in a meaningful way to assist in the plea.
"Yes, please say you will, Gayle . . . we need you. You wouldn't want to see our business go to rack-and-ruin with Marcus or me handling the books, would you?" Lance coaxed in his charmingly persuasive manner.
Gayle gazed up at Lance again, and nearly swooned at the look she saw in his eyes. He was looking at her like he could be interested in her as a woman. Unable to speak, she nodded her head, in acceptance of the job.
Lance leaned down at kissed her cheek, whispering in her ear. "Thank you Gayle. I think we will work well together . . . extremely well."
Sarah smiled broadly at this new turn of events. She felt like a matchmaker.
Marcus drove the curricle slowly into the village, while he and Adam scrutinized the shop doorways and windows in search of Rachel.
"Maybe she didn't have time to get this far, she must be walking . . . none of the horses are missing," Marcus mused.
"Let's pull over, and walk back to the coaches' pick-up area," Adam suggested.
"Aye, we'll take her by surprise," Marcus agreed, parking at a nearby shop.
They crossed the street, stationing themselves a few yards from where the coach would board its passengers, and with a view of the road in both directions to enter the village. Satisfied with their location, Adam and Marcus settled into a comfortable position to wait for her arrival.
Rachel walked with her head down, weary from the long journey, and the heavy bag she carried. Her feet were sore from the thin soled shoes, and her limbs ached. She did not notice Marcus or Adam until they had each grabbed one of her arms. Startled, Rachel was about to scream, then gasped in fear when she recognized them. Marcus took the bag out of her hand before they led the unwilling Rachel to the curricle. Neither of the somber, frowning men had said a word to her during the confrontation.
Adam lifted Rachel roughly onto the seat of the curricle, and climbed up next to her, while Marcus seated himself on the other side, squeezing her firmly between them, preventing any attempt at escape.
Rachel clasped her trembling hands in her lap, and blinked back the tears forming in her eyes.
"Is she?. . . . Is Sarah dead?" Rachel asked tremulously.
Adam glared at her with his rage barely contained. He wanted to grab her throat, and choke the life out of this heartless bitch.
Marcus glanced at him, and thought he'd better make an attempt to cool the situation down a little. It was a long drive back to the estate.
"No, she's not . . . and 'tis lucky for you she isn't, or that anyone else died in the wreck. Murder would have meant the gallows for you, Rachel," Marcus chided.
"My horse is dead . . . and the coachman had his leg broken. Does that satisfy your vengeance?" Adam sneered.
"I didn't mean any real harm . . . I only wanted to . . . to teach her a lesson . . . for Ja..Jason. I didn't think anyone would really get hurt ba..badly," she wailed, as she broke into uncontrolled sobs.
Adam stared at her in disgust. Was she crying for the damage she had done, or because she didn't make her escape? He looked at Marcus over the top of Rachel's bent head, and deemed he held the same opinion.
The rest of the trip was made in silence, except for Rachel's continuous crying. Neither man had tried to comfort her, with words nor gestures. Not even offering her a handkerchief.
Rachel began to realize that she wasn't going to get any sympathy, and started to worry what would happen when they returned, and discovered how much she had in the bag. She had to get away. Jason was waiting for her, and she wanted to bring him the money he needed.
"Stop! Stop . . . I'm sick . . . let me out!" she yelled covering her mouth, pretending to retch.
Marcus drew the horses to a halt, and instinctively, without thinking he jumped from the seat to let her out. Rachel scurried out after him, grabbing her bag as she jumped down. Before Marcus realized what she was doing, she ran across the road toward the field.
Both men shouted, racing in pursuit. Rachel was tackled by Adam before she had reached the field, both of them hitting the dirt with a thud. Rachel went sprawling, knocking the wind out of her. Gaining her breath she start beating on him with her fists, twisting, and struggling to get away.
"You stupid bitch!" Adam growled, shaking her, as he pulled her to her feet, then pinned her arms behind her.
"We better tie her up," Marcus said, shaking his head at the foolhardy attempt, as he picked up the bag. How could she think she would get away?
"Please let me go, Marcus," Rachel pleaded, with tears swelling up in her turquoise eyes, as Adam, using his cravat, tied her hands, while she was holding them clasped together in a praying position pleading with Marcus. After testing the knot to make sure it was secure, Adam then concentrated on brushing the dirt off his clothes without much success.
"Jason is waiting for me. He doesn't have any money..or . . . or..anything! He needs me," she cried, tears streaking through the dirt on her cheek. Her chestnut hair tumbling loose, falling over her bare shoulder where the dress had torn.
Marcus looked at the beautiful, shapely girl, with those watery turquoise eyes, and wondered how she ever ended up falling for a scoundrel like Jason.
"He brought it on himself, Rachel, and Jason couldn't possibly be penniless. Lilly gave him enough to make it to America, and still have plenty leftover to support himself. Although, I can't see why she did, since he had been cheating her out of thousands," Marcus said scornfully.
"No! It's all lies! Jason told me how Sarah lied, and blamed him for cheating. Then Lilly made him give his own money to her, to pay back what Sarah accused him of stealing. She had sent him away penniless! Don't you see? Lilly is lying to you! Sarah is lying too, because she was jealous of Jason's love for me, and . . . and she wanted to punish him!" She said frantically, with her tied hands gripping at Marcus's sleeve.
"It's not lies, Rachel" Marcus said gently, "I was there when they confronted Jason. He had taken Lilly's money. He and another gambler, Sir Vincent Hargrave, were cheating at the tables. He confessed, Rachel."
"Lies, Lies, Lies!" she cried, shaking his arm. "That confession was forced from him by Karl . . . that's why Karl smashed his hand . . . to confess to the lies!" she screamed, kicking him, before he sidestepped out of the way.
Marcus and Adam stared at her in disbelief. They thought Rachel was going to lose her sanity, if something wasn't done soon. She'd try anything to help Jason.
Adam shook his head, in resignation. The woman was hopeless.
"Let's just get her back to the house. If I have to listen to any more of this disparaging talk of Sarah, I swear I'll . . . well, too bad she's a woman, or I'd plant a facer on that stubborn jaw," Adam said, taking a firm grip on Rachel's arm, to escort her back to the curricle.
"Just so you're not tempted . . . ," Marcus chuckled, as he took his handkerchief from his coat pocket, and tied it over Rachel's mouth.
"Look!" exclaimed Nicole, as she pointed out the window. Everyone rushed to the parlor windows with their curiosity aroused.
The curricle was pulling up, with Marcus and Adam looking grim. Rachel, disheveled from being tackled in the dirt, sat bound and gagged, between them.
"Mon Dieu! What has happened?" Lilly cried in concern, as she turned hurriedly toward the door to meet them.
The two men marched Rachel into the house, and straight to the parlor, before answering any question. Sitting her in a chair, without untying or removing the gag, they faced the stunned onlookers.
"This woman is unmanageable, and remains tied until we discuss the situation," Marcus said firmly.
"Jason has given her a completely different story of what has happened, and she believes him. There is no changing her mind in that quarter . . . which is partly the reason for her action in tampering with the coach wheel. As for what's in the bag that may be an entirely separate matter regarding theft," Adam said, setting the bag down, and opening it.
Jacques stepped forward, turned the bag over, and spilled the contents onto the carpet. The gold guineas clinked with the sparkling jewelry, and paper money fluttered to the floor. The oh's and gasps were followed by cries of outrage from the women, when they spied their own articles among the assortment.
"Damned if that's not my diamond stickpin! How did she get that?" Lance said amazed.
"All my jewels are in that bag! You thieving trollop! I'll . . . ," Beth shrieked, reaching out and grabbing Rachel's hair, before she was brought under control, as others tried to push their way passed Marcus, to get to Rachel.
"Please! Calm down! We have to sort this out in an orderly manner," Lilly commanded sternly.
The shouting stopped, and the group settled down, for they were used to taking orders from Lilly.
"That is better. We will take stock of everything that is here, and make sure it goes to the rightful owner. So, please be patient a moment. First, we have to decide what to do about Rachel. We cannot leave her tied up like this, for much longer," Lilly remarked, with a gesture toward the disheveled girl.
"I say we give her to Newgate!" Beth muttered, glaring at Rachel.
"She certainly qualifies for it, from the looks of that booty she's collected," Spencer commented.
A muffled cry of alarm came from the gagged Rachel, as she shook her head in protest.
"What do you have to say, Lord Townsend? After all, your carriage was destroyed, your driver hurt, and your horse killed. Not to mention the attempt to harm you and Sarah," Lilly remarked.
"As I said to Marcus . . . if she were a man, I would challenge her to a duel, and put a period to the whole mess. Since she is not . . . well, I don't hold to putting a woman in that hell-hole they call a prison," Adam shrugged, "Why not just ship her off to Jason . . . sans the fortunate he's expecting her to bring. Maybe she'll see what kind of scum he is, when she shows up empty-handed."
Marcus laughed, "That would do it too! She won't believe what we say, so she can find out on her own."
"By Jove, you're right. Jason won't want her with pockets-to-let," Lance agreed.
Adam's attention was drawn to the gold snuff box with the crest insignia, lying in the pile of jewelry, and he leaned down to pick it up. Opening the lid, he read the engraved name, and smiled broadly.
"If you don't mind, I would like to be the one to return this to its rightful owner," Adam said to Lilly.
"Of course, Lord Townsend. You might want to check to see if anything else belongs to that person," Lilly answered.
The group persuaded Lilly to not provide Rachel with extra cash, but just enough to reach Calais, and an amount equal to her annual pay for expenses, because she had her own money she had saved. Advising Lilly that no matter how much she gave Rachel, Jason would take it from her, then abandon her in a strange country.
Rachel had been allowed to get cleaned up, and change clothes, before being escorted back to the coaching station, by Spencer and Karl. She sulked the whole trip, refusing to listen to any words of advice, and huffily boarded the coach without looking back. Not one word of an apology had she uttered since they removed the gag from her mouth.
"Think Jason will keep her without the money?" Karl mused watching the coach pull away.
"Not bloody likely! She's no use to him if he has to support her. Especially when there are wealthy widows he can lure with his charming ways."
"He does know how to use the charm. Rachel wasn't the only one he charmed on the second floor," Karl said turning toward the curricle.
"That's true, but no one would risk setting off that fiery temper of hers to tell her," Spencer said, and gazed down the street thoughtfully, as Karl climbed into the curricle.
"You go on, Karl, I'll walk back."
"Walk? All that way? Why would you want to do that?"
"Well, when I went to get the Doctor for the carriage accident, I noticed he had a lovely daughter I'd like to get to know better," Spencer answered smiling.
"You don't plan on causing trouble do you? I don't think Miss Lilly would like that, especially now that she's a land owner and a neighbor of theirs," Karl admonished.
"No, I was thinking more in the serious nature of courting her and eventually, on settling down. I've been saving and investing my money, and now that we're no longer employed, maybe I'll retire and buy a farm or something. Its high time I found myself a wife, and that sweet young miss looked just about the type I had in mind," Spencer answered, walking away while Karl stared after him in disbelief.
Lilly came back into the parlor where the others were sorting out the jewelry. Marcus was sitting on the sofa with Nicole, teasing her about her numerous bracelets, and whispering in her ear. Lilly knew Marcus had his eye on Nicole for sometime, and he was probably glad for this chance to spend time with her. Marcus had been there when Karl and Lilly had brought Nicole home after they had found her beaten in the alley. He had been so enraged at the time and later when Nicole was able to tell him what had happened and who had assaulted her, Marcus went looking for the so-called gentleman. After locating him, Marcus waited and cornered him one evening, beating him unmercifully. The gentleman never knew who his attacker had been. When that same gentleman had attempted to enter her establishment a few weeks later, she told him he was not welcome to ever set foot through her doors because of his brutal treatment of women. He left extremely embarrassed as he was with other gentlemen at the time.
Watching Marcus and Nicole now, Lilly hoped that a romance might develop between them. She would like to see Nicole under his protection. Turning away, Lilly walked over to the chair where Beth was taking stock of all her jewels, and putting them into her jewelry box.
"You do have a nice collection, Beth," Lilly said admiringly, as she looked over Beth's shoulder.
"Aye, and I am thankful they caught that little thief before she got away with it! This was my security for the future . . . or perhaps I should say the present for it looks as if I will be needing it sooner than expected," Beth sighed.
"You know that you are to make this your home until we know what the future holds," Lilly reassured her.
"Thank you, Lilly. I appreciate all you've done for me, but I have been thinking about what I really want to do since the fire, and I have finally decided on buying a small cottage near the sea. Somewhere far enough away, where no one knows me or what I've been. Where I can start a new life. I'm going to pretend I'm a widow . . . a widow who's husband was lost at sea . . . and he would have been the Captain of his ship. His name was Captain . . . ," looking down at the diamond bracelet she held, and inspired, Beth laughingly said. "....Captain Diamond!" and Lilly laughed with her. "I will be the widow Mrs. Diamond! I'll walk on the sand, and smell the salt air. Some place I can have a dog, maybe a couple of cats too, and a little vegetable garden," Beth said dreamily.
"How wonderful! Do you think you will be able to do that? You know I will be willing to help all I can. If you need to sell your jewels, I have excellent contacts where you will get top price for them. From what I see there, you will be able to buy your little dream cottage, and still have enough left to keep you well into old age! In fact, you might consider talking to Andre at the bank about investing part of it."
"You are right, I should think about investing. It certainly isn't doing me any good to have all my security sitting here in a jewelry box! Especially, after finding out how easily it can disappear as it did with Rachel!" Beth said, angry again at how Rachel could have done such a thing when everyone trusted her.
"Oh, and if you find an advertisement for a place you like, you can use our coach to take a look at it," Lilly said, thrilled that another employee will be settled. She started to walk away, when a thought struck her. Lilly turned, looking again at Beth dressed in her distinctive bright-colored clothing, and adorned with some of her sparkling jewelry.
"You had better invest in some widow weeds . . . or at least the fabrication of this Sea Captain's shipwreck to have happened more than a year ago. Otherwise people will talk," Lilly teased.
"Good Heavens! I look dreadful in black! It will definitely have
to be longer than a year of poor Captain Diamond's sad departure," Beth
agreed, touching the aquamarine and lemon stripe dress she wore. "How could
I possibly give up my lovely wardrobe?"
* * * *
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