The Earl of Diamonds
After tearful farewells to Michael that afternoon, Elise and Raynhurst retired to their room. Raynhurst, intending to tell her about the bracelets, put it off as long as possible by making love to Elise first. He wanted her to believe how much he loved her.
They were getting dressed for the ball, and just as he was finding the nerve to tell her, there was a light knock on the door. He rose to open it to the servant.
"Mr. Davidson to see you, milord. He said it was important," Martin announced.
"Show him to the library, and I will be right down," he said agitated.
"Who is Mr. Davidson, Stephen?"
"He is a detective, which I had intended to tell you about. I will explain when I come back," he said, kissing her on the cheek before he left.
"Has something happened, Mr. Davidson?" Raynhurst said, as he closed the library door.
"We finally have a lead on the thief. He tried to get rid of some loose diamonds at a pawnshop this morning, and they fit the description of the ones in the bracelets. The pawnbroker said the man had forty-eight flawless, rose-cut diamonds, which are the same as in the six bracelets taken," Mr. Davidson said with satisfaction.
"Who was it? Are you going to catch him?" Raynhurst asked.
"The pawnbroker gave a vague description of the man as he had his hat pulled down, and he only knew he was a gentleman from the way he talked. He convinced the man to come back in two days. He told him he didn't have enough to buy all of the diamonds. He gave him 10,000 pounds for twenty of them, and I assured him that you promised a reward when he gave the diamonds back." At which Raynhurst nodded, and Davidson continued, "We will be waiting for him when he shows up at the pawn shop."
"I am anxious to know who it is," Raynhurst mused. "It is not a woman, as everyone suspected, and I cannot think of anyone I know who would do such a thing."
"Well, if he is a gentleman, as the pawnbroker suspects, then most likely you must have met him at one of the clubs or the social affairs you attend," he said.
"That's true, especially if he is familiar with my habits, and which of the ladies possess a diamond bracelet," he mused.
"I will let you know when we have caught him, Lord Raynhurst," he said as he turned to leave.
"Thank you for coming to tell me, Mr. Davidson."
Raynhurst hurried back upstairs to Elise. If I do not tell her tonight, it will be worst when the thief is arrested and the gossip gets started again. He was just heading for the bedroom, when Elise walked out all dressed.
"Oh, Stephen! I was just coming to look for you, did you get my bracelet back from the jewelers? I would really like to wear it tonight, for it will go with this dress," she said, as she ran her hand down the white silk dress with an overlay of white and gold threaded diaphanous gauze.
Raynhurst blanched at the request. "Uh . . . sorry . . . I have not been to the jewelers . . . ," he cleared his throat and started again.
"Elise, I need to talk to you, and it concerns the bracelet. Can we sit down a minute?" as he took her arm to lead her back into the room.
"Well, yes . . . but should we say good night to Anthony first? He has been waiting for us and the nurse would like to get him to bed," she answered bewildered by the look on his face.
He smiled, "Yes Elise, we will see Anthony. He has grown so much in this short time, has he not? He is such an energetic boy," he said proudly, and took her arm again on their way to the nursery.
While they were saying good night to Anthony, Raynhurst's mind was whirling with ways on how to word what he was going to say about the bracelets.
Looking over at her husband, with his head bent in deep concentration, Elise knew that something was definitely bothering him and it must have to do with that Mr. Davidson.
Coming out of the nursery room, his mother met them in the hallway.
"Stephen! You're not dressed yet!" Marion said looking at him in dismay.
"I know Mother, I am just about to do that," he said exasperated at another interruption.
"I had better let you get dressed first, before we have our talk, Stephen, or we will be terribly late," Elise said hoping to placate his mother out of her anxiety.
Frowning, he said, "I'll not be long, Elise," and turned to leave while the two women looked puzzled.
"Is something wrong?" Lady Marion asked.
"I do not know. He does seem a little piqued, does he not?" Elise
Raynhurst's valet, being rushed into getting his lordship ready, had trouble with his cravat, and had to discard four of them before getting it in a perfect fold.
By the time Raynhurst had finished, there was not time left for the talk he planned. "I will definitely have her cornered when we get to bed this evening. Then I know there will not be any interruptions," he muttered, as he went down the stairs where everyone was waiting.
Their carriage moved slowly in a long line of other carriages, as it made its way up the driveway of the Hollingsworth Manor in Kensington.
Elise looked out the window at the crowd of people going up the marble
steps. The beautifully gowned ladies and the men in their evening dress
made a wonderful sight. She had not been to a ball this grand before, and
the house was almost three times the size of the others.
Cedric and Lady Simpson were in a carriage not far behind that of Raynhurst's. Lady Simpson, seeing the carriage, turned to Cedric with a smile.
"I do believe that we have timed this well. We should be just entering the ballroom at the same time," she said.
Cedric distracted from his thoughts, looked at the beautiful woman across from him. Now that he had already made plans of getting rid of the son, he was not interested in this encounter this evening. But he was interested in the bracelet she had on tonight.
"Do you plan on flashing the bracelet in front of her as soon as you walk in the door?" he said wryly.
"But of course, darling! I do not want Raynhurst to see I have it on, before I can show it to her. Otherwise, he will spend the evening avoiding me," she laughed.
"You are so clever my dear," he smiled. "And so beautiful too," he said as he let his eyes roam over her figure, in the gown of champagne silk with the dangerously low neckline. Why would Raynhurst give up something like this? he thought, then his eyes moved back to the bracelet. After she accomplishes her little act this evening, there will be more diamonds to sell to the pawnbroker when I go back.
Elise and Raynhurst, stood together in a group of others after they had been greeted by their hosts, Lord and Lady Hollingsworth. The duchess turned as she saw her son, Edward, the Duke of Westborough enter with his wife. Touching Elise's arm, she leaned over and whispered behind her fan.
"You are about to meet your other Uncle. He is not so loveable as your Uncle Michael," she said scornfully.
Elise turned to look at the couple who had just entered the ballroom. The formidable gentleman looked very different from her Uncle Michael. He had dark hair, a tall slim physique, although his face was handsome, he had a look of arrogance. The wife was austere in appearance, with a pinched mouth and light brown hair pulled tightly in a roll at the back of her neck.
"Oh dear, he does not look at all like you or Uncle Michael!" she whispered back with amazement.
"He takes after his father's side of the family. Did I not tell you that Rachel was just like him? They hardly ever invite me to see my granddaughter, Marissa," she said bitterly.
Elise watched, as the Duke, seeing his mother, said something to his wife, and she glanced over with a haughty expression, then answered him, before they made their way slowly through the crowd to greet his mother.
As they came closer, his eyes went to Elise, and with a surprise look on his face, he faltered in his steps. This gave his mother a sense of satisfaction. She remembered how coldly he treated Eleanor, and hoped he thought she came back to haunt him.
"Edward, I would like to introduce you to your niece, Eleanor's daughter. This is Lady Elise, the Countess of Raynhurst," she said proudly.
"Elise, this is your Uncle Edward . . . and Rachel, his wife, the Duke and Duchess of Westborough." Deliberately slighting Edward's wife in the introduction.
Elise curtsied, then looked up into his eyes. He was staring at her with disbelief.
"I did not know Eleanor had a child. Certainly it was expected she would . . . though I had not heard," he stammered "But . . . then . . . of course, you do look like her."
"Are you saying Edward, that you do not believe this is Eleanor's daughter?" his mother asked amazed at the effrontery of his remark.
His haughtiness was slipping as he tried to recover from the shock of seeing Elise. "No, Mother, I am sorry, I did not mean it as it sounded. I am just surprised I was not notified of her existence."
"Well, I believe that is due to the lack of communication we have between us, do you not agree?" she said coldly.
The Duke's wife seeing her husband lose his countenance, said, "Well, no matter, we now know of her existence, and we are pleased to meet you, Countess Raynhurst. Congratulations on your marriage. It must be very interesting being married to Lord Raynhurst, I mean, you should never have a dull moment what with all his activities," she smiled with disdain.
Elise stunned at that caustic remark, glanced in Stephen's direction, where he stood engrossed in conversation with Lord Bennington.
"Thank you, your grace, I am happy in my marriage," she said smoothly .
"Come, Edward, Lord and Lady Hollingsworth are waiting for us to join them." Looking at her mother-in-law, she added, "We will have to get together sometime soon, Mother Carlisle," she said taking Edward's arm as they turned to leave.
Edward still stunned by the encounter, muttered a farewell and left with his wife.
Looking after them, Elise could not believe they belonged to the same family. "What is their daughter like?" she asked curiously.
Her grandmother sighed, "The poor child has not been in good health since her birth. Marissa is fourteen now, such a sweet child, but so pale and fragile. Her mother does not pay the least attention to her either. Rachel had three miscarriages before she had Marissa, and the doctor told her she should not get pregnant again. So I imagine she and Edward do not share the same bed anymore. Which might account for the pinched look in her countenance!" she added wryly.
"Well, Grandmother, I do not feel any better toward her than you do. She does put one off with that condescending look," laughed Elise as they turned to join Stephen, his mother and Aunt Emily.
Raynhurst smiled as she walked up, and said "I noticed you met your Uncle, the formidable Duke of Westborough."
"Yes, it was quite an experience," she answered.
Walking away the Duke of Westborough was still shaken from the likeness between Elise and his sister. His mind whirled of visions of Eleanor, and the last time he saw her in that confrontation with his father. His father telling her he would renounce her as his daughter and never wanted to see her again. Edward's relationship with his brother and sister had been one of cold aloofness.
As the years had passed, he had realized it for nothing but jealousy of their closeness and friendship for each other. While he had to spend time with his father learning estate matters, he missed out on the carefree companionship his brother and sister enjoyed.
After his sister had gone to France during the height of the revolution, he began to hate his father for what he had done, refusing to let his mother correspond, thus giving Eleanor, no opportunity to return to her family and safety. Now seeing her daughter, Elise, he wanted to undo the entire animosity that has strained his relationship with his family. He would find his mother later, and try to make amends . . . and hope it wasn't too late.
In an alcove nearby, Lady Caroline Simpson and Cedric stood watching for the opportunity to approach.
"Now is a good time, Cedric. Come . . . you must say hello to your cousin," she said with a smile, taking his arm as they strolled toward the Earl of Raynhurst.
As they walked up, Lady Caroline, adjusted her bracelet on her wrist, and holding her fan so the bracelet would show to advantage, she began fanning herself slowly.
Raynhurst looked up and stiffened as he saw her. Elise sensing something was wrong, turned her head to see who was approaching.
"Good evening Cuz," said Cedric, then looking at Elise, he smiled, "Good evening, Countess. How lovely you look tonight. You will save a dance for me won't you?" as his eyes moved slowly over her.
Flustered at his blatant look, she said "Of course, Cedric, I would be honored."
"And how are you this evening, Raynhurst?" Lady Caroline purred.
Turning to Elise, she fanned herself more markedly as she said, "So nice to see you again, Countess."
When Elise's looked in her direction, her eyes were attracted by the movement of the fan, and the bracelet sparkling on the wrist from the reflection of the chandelier candlelight.
Raynhurst also noticed Caroline's deliberate attempt to draw attention to her hand, and saw the bracelet. He flushed in anger.
Lady Caroline glanced at him triumphantly, and then said to Elise, "I see you are interested in my bracelet, Countess. Do you not think it is unique? I was quite thrilled when I received it," she said smiling knowingly up at Raynhurst.
Elise still staring at the bracelet, dazed from the discovery, said numbly "Yes . . . it is quite beautiful, Lady Caroline."
Raynhurst looking at Elise's face, cursing himself for not telling her before they left home, turned and glared coldly at Lady Caroline, "Will you excuse us, please?" taking Elise's arm, he led her away to find a quiet place to talk.
Watching them weave their way through the crowded room, Cedric said with amusement, "I do believe you ruined her night. The way she looked at the bracelet, it would seem she has one just like it."
Elise followed Raynhurst in a stupor, while she thought of why Lady Caroline had her bracelet. He did not get it fixed, it was not broken . . . he gave it to that woman! He had been lying to me all this time. That is why he wanted to talk about the bracelet this evening before we left, he wanted to make an excuse why it was not going to be returned from the jewelers. He is tired of me already and looking for another person to love . . . or maybe he had not given Lady Caroline up at all, and has been seeing her all this time! He has not changed, he still has his mistresses and is not happy being married.
Her heart was slowly breaking as she found more reasons why he had lied to her. Looking up, she saw that they were nearing the Ladies retiring room.
"Excuse me, Stephen, I would like to step into the retiring room for a moment," she said with a chill in her voice as she moved away from him.
"Elise, wait! I need to talk to you!" he said desperately.
"I think it is too late to talk, Stephen" and without looking at him she went into the room.
Raynhurst, apprehensive of the way Elise had sounded as she left him, went to find the duchess so that she could go in the room and talk to Elise for him.
Elise sat down in a chair in a secluded corner of the room, where she would not likely to be bothered. She was at a loss as to what to do or how to face him again. There wasn't anyway that she would believe what he said, now that she had seen her bracelet on Lady Caroline.
When two ladies walked into the room, Elise turned her face away, and dab at her eyes where the tears were forming.
The women went to the dressing table, and fussed with their hair. One of them remarked, "Did you see that Simpson woman! I cannot believe she had the audacity to flaunt that bracelet, after what had happened to all the others! Especially when that woman was murdered!"
"Well, she always was one to advertise her affairs," said the second lady maliciously.
"My husband says, he heard that the ladies . . . and I use that term loosely . . . who had their bracelet stolen, want to look at all the others, to check if their number is on it," confided the first.
"What numbers?" asked the second.
"Oh! You don't know? Why, Lord Raynhurst had the bracelets numbered so he could keep count of all of his mistresses. And . . . it's been said, that there are more than fifty of them who already have the bracelets!" she said incredulously.
Elise, sitting in the corner unobserved, began to get nauseated at the revelation of her husband's reputation. She remembered quite well the number on the bracelet she had, and it was twenty. Now she finds out, that since he met her, he must have given more than thirty bracelets to other woman, and had made love to them. And murder? He is mixed up in a murder?
Not being able to take any more, she quietly got up and left the room through the door leading to the terrace. Walking around the outside of the house along the path, she eventually came to the front entrance where the carriages were parked along the driveway. Seeing the family carriage, she asked the footman to call her coachman. When the carriage arrived at the entrance, she explained that she wasn't feeling well, and would like him to take her home, as she did not want to ruin the evening for the others.
Willing to oblige his ladyship, he helped her into the carriage, and drove away.
Worried where she could have gone, he went to check with the servants in the front area to see if they had seen her while the duchess checked the ballroom area.
After almost an hour of looking, the footman at the entrance said she had left in the carriage, and the carriage had already returned, parked in the driveway.
Running to his carriage, Raynhurst climbed in and had the coachman make a fast trip back to the house.
His stomach was tied in knots, as he wondered how he would ever get this straightened out with her. Damn! I should have told her when she wanted to wear that bracelet! he thought, berating himself for his stupidity.
Not aware that she had heard about all the others, he was thinking how he would explain the one Lady Simpson had on, and to convince her it was not the one he said was being fixed.
The carriage no sooner pulled up, when he jumped out and ran into the house. Taking the stairs two at a time, he went into his bedroom. She was not there, and the door leading to the connecting room was closed. Trying the door, he found it locked.
Knocking on the door, he yelled "Elise! Open the door. We have to talk!"
When there was no answer, he changed his tone of voice and pleaded "Please Elise, I can explain what happened. I love you. Don't do this to me."
Listening to his explanation, as the tears rolled down her cheeks, she bit her lip to stop the trembling. He only mentioned the bracelet Lady Caroline was wearing, and not all the other bracelets he had given away to so many women. Lying down on the bed, she covered her head with the pillow, to shut out his pleas. She could not bare to hear him tell her any more lies.
Raynhurst leaned against the door for a long time after giving up trying to get her to open it. Finally, he walked to the table, and picked up the brandy bottle and poured a glass.
He sat down in the chair and proceeded to drown his troubles.
Lady Caroline Simpson, was pleased with her little revenge on the new Countess, and hoped it would cause her to leave her husband. Then he will be mine again, she thought smugly, as she stroked her bracelet.
"Beg pardon milady, a message for you," the servant said, as he held out the silver salver with the folder paper.
Thanking him, she opened the note.
"So Raynhurst, would like to talk. Well, I will see what more we can accomplish beside talk," she smiled seductively as she went out the terrace door, and down the steps to the garden. Excited about seeing him, she hurried along the darkened garden path toward the statue, as she passed through the shadows of the trees she heard a noise, but before she turned she felt a sharp pain behind her ear, and everything went black.Caro,
Meet me in the garden by the maze entrance statue.
Cedric threw the rock into the bushes, and pulled her limp body off
the path into the foliage. Leaning down, he quickly removed the bracelet,
and the note from her reticule, putting them into his pocket. Smiling down
at her, he murmured, "Sorry my dear Caro," and he slipped quietly down
the path to the house, blending in with the hundreds of people attending
* * * *
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