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The Earl of Diamonds



CHAPTER 3




A quick thrust of the blade and the guard slumped quietly at Taggart's feet.  Silently Stephen slipped back into the shadows.

"Major!" Captain Lockhart whispered moving up behind Stephen in the darkness.

Startled he turned quickly, tightening his grip on the knife. He had not heard the Captain approach, and cursed himself for letting his mind wander again.  Ever since he'd left that farmhouse he had not been able to get the girl out of his head.

"Did you take care of the other guard?" Stephen whispered back.

"Aye, just waiting for our signal light from the west side of the French encampment that it's all clear."

They were ready to attack and everyone was on edge waiting for the command.

The regiment was spread out to encircle the isolated French troop they had come across on a reconnaissance the night before.  This was a small detachment probably on their way to join Soult's forces.  There was no activity now that the guards have been silently eliminated, and Stephen hoped his men would manage this attack successfully with few casualties.

Stephen was just about to let his mind drift back to the events of his quick wedding, when the signal light flickered in the blackness from the west.  The quiet night burst into havoc as they descended upon the camp, and the battle began.  Flames from the burning tents lit up the sky and etched the turmoil into grotesque shapes as their silhouettes danced among the surrounding trees.

Exchange of gun fire and swords clashing seemed to go on forever although it was in essence a quick battle.  As Stephen turned to take stock of the damage, movement to his left caught his eye.

From behind a stack of supply barrels a Frenchman launched at him with a bayonet.  Stephen tried to dodge the attack while firing a shot, but he felt the searing pain as the blade ripped through his shoulder, as he watched the man crumble with a gaping hole in the stomach.

That was the last thing Major Stephen Taggart saw before he lost consciousness.
 


Elise awoke with a gasp, and sat up staring wide-eyed in the darkened room trying to rid herself of the vivid dream of the Major's body falling to the ground during a battle.  She shuddered to think that he may be killed and she would never know.  She was sure that he did not tell anyone of their marriage or to notify her. Elise sighed, and lay back again on the pillow.

Nearly every night she had cried herself to sleep with her heart aching from a shattered dream of love and marriage that could never be fulfilled.

After two months, the nausea of morning sickness kept Elise from thinking about her heartache.  She wanted to forget that day had ever happened, now in her condition it seemed harder to forget.  When she thought of the cold and heartless way he tried to bargain with her grandfather, to pay him off, she felt angry, but when she thought of that night, and of the passion, she couldn't believe that it meant nothing to him.

Her eyes moved to the diamond bracelet, with the gold heart-shaped clasp, laying on the small bedside table, and remembered how he smiled when he put it on her wrist, saying, "I was saving this to give to someone special and I found you, my love."  She wondered if it was a family heirloom of his that was passed on, the way the men in Grandpapa's family had given the ring to their brides.

Elise looked down at the ring on her finger, and felt ashamed that she had to use it for such a sham wedding.  The more her mind whirled through the event over and over, the more she became confused and nauseated.

Her neighbor, Maria, came by every day to check on her and made sure she would at least eat something.  After a few months, Elise began to feel better and had hardened her heart to Major Stephen Taggart.

As Philip watched the changes in Elise, not only physical but emotional, he thought that it was fortunate that his granddaughter married. At least when her child is old enough to marry, it will not be labeled 'illegitimate'. For the child's sake too, he will have to tell her about her mother's family in England. She has never asked, and he really did not give it much thought with the war, and worrying about escaping France.

Elise's father, Paul Areant, was a French Diplomat, and her mother originally came from England, this much she knew, but she did not know that her mother was also the daughter of a Duke. After joining the Diplomatic Service, Paul was stationed in England where he met Eleanor, and fell in love. But when the Duke forbid their marrying, they eloped and returned to France.

Eleanor's parents refused to acknowledge her as their daughter, and never communicated again, until the day she died and Philip found an unopened letter from the Duchess of Westborough next to the jewelry box when he picked it up. He threw it into the box and had never opened the letter, but had saved it for Elise.


Philip anxiously waited as his granddaughter gave birth in the other room.

"I am getting too old for this, and my health has been failing over the last few months," he muttered. "I'm going to be a great-grandfather!  Lord, give me the strength and health to see her through at least a few more years," he prayed, as he continued his pacing.

At last he heard the first cry of the newborn, and heaved a sigh of relief.  A few minutes later, Maria opened the door and motioned for him to enter.

Elise lay propped against the pillows, holding the baby, with a weary look on her pale face.

Philip leaned over and kissed her on the forehead.

"Are you all right, Elise?"

She nodded, as she looked down at her beautiful baby.

"It's a boy Grandpapa.  This is Anthony Areant Taggart . . . I want him to carry your family name," she said smiling at the baby.  Elise hoped that someday when Anthony marries, he will pass the Areant ring to his bride, and she fervently prayed it would be for love.

She brushed her hand over his soft dark-brown hair, then noticed the mark on his temple. Looking closer, she realized it was a crescent-shaped reddish-purple birthmark . . . just like his father's. Her heart gave a lurch as she remembered his smile when he told her about it.  She hugged her baby closer, as a tear rolled down her cheek.
 
 

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