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The Earl of Diamonds


CHAPTER 4



England, 1815
 

Heaving a sigh, Stephen Taggart, the Earl of Raynhurst, closed the account books, and leaned back in his chair.

"Well, that is finally done! After almost a year, I have at last put the Estate back in order.  The tenant homes have been repaired, all fences mended, new livestock purchased . . . and if it hadn't been for that thieving  Estate Manager, Gilbert had hired, it would have been in much better shape!" he complained.

He flexed his shoulder where it still ached from the bayonet that ripped a jagged wound from his collarbone to his chest. Although it missed all the vital organs, it had not healed properly from the ill-equipped army hospital tent he had been taken to during the battle. When he returned home, his own Doctor had to open it and completely stitch it up again.

"I guess I can be thankful they did not amputate my arm" he muttered wryly.

Stephen had heard the news that Napoleon was marching toward Belgium, and the allied troops were gathering their forces in the area. He would have been with his men and Wellington if he had not been injured.

"I thought it was over when Boney was exiled to Elba, but the damned cunning rogue managed to come back . . . this time Wellington will put an end to him. Too bad I am not there to help!" he grumbled in frustration, rubbing his shoulder, then looked up when there was a knock on the library door, and the butler stepped in to announce that his mother, the Countess, would like him to join her for tea.

"Thank you, Jenson, please inform the Countess I will be there shortly."

"Yes, milord," he bowed and closed the door as he left.

Stephen straightened his cravat and buttoned his waistcoat. Shaking his head and smiling, he thought, Mother is going to start pushing again for me to attend the Season in London, and the Marriage Mart. Maybe I should tell her that I'm already married to a beautiful peasant in Spain.

His smile faded as his mind wandered back to that vision when he last saw her, and the beautiful, violet-blue, heartbroken eyes staring at him before she turned away. And yet another vision of when she first awoke with the tumbled golden curls, and the adoration shining in her eyes.

"Damn! I can't get her out of my head!" Stephen muttered, clenching his fist.

"The best thing I could do is go to London and see my solicitor about a termination of this marriage. I hope I can count on his discretion. I should have taken care of this as soon as I returned to England, except the estate needed my full attention . . . And the recovering from my wound . . . face it, Taggart, you put it off because you didn't want to let her go," he growled. Well, I have no choice. The family would not accept a peasant girl as an addition to the ancestral bloodline, he thought, as he went to join his mother for tea.

As he walked into the drawing room, his mother was in a chair near the fire. Across the room, by the window, sat Aunt Emily, his mother's widowed sister and now her companion, working on a stitching frame. He was glad his Aunt was here to keep her company. They both had suffered the death of their husbands within months apart, and had helped each other through their grief.

"Good afternoon, Aunt Emily" he nodded in her direction as he stepped forward.

"Hello, Stephen. I'm glad you could join us," she said smiling at her favorite nephew. Even with his wild ways, she had favored him over Gilbert. Emily regretted that she and her husband never had any children. She always felt that she had not fulfilled her duty as a wife, although her husband loved her dearly, he never worried or seem to care that she did not become pregnant. Emily, the younger sister, by one year, still had her good looks as did her sister Marion, both have retained their figures and neither had grey in their golden brown hair. Their hazel eyes still held a youthful sparkle. People often thought they were twins.

"Well, lovely ladies, you're looking exceptionally well today," Stephen said cheerfully, as he took a chair facing them.

"I would be looking a lot better if you would pay attention to your responsibilities!" glaring at her son, as she poured his tea and handed him the cup.

"And pray, what do you think I have been doing this past year?" he said dryly, taking the cup and settling back in his chair to endure her latest tirade.

"You know what I mean. You should be thinking of marriage and setting up your nursery. You were lucky not to have gotten yourself killed in the war, but what if you cease to remain that lucky, and something happens as it did to your brother?"

"Why, I thank you for your heartfelt concern for my luck in only getting wounded, and your confidence in my continued good health," he said, wryly.

Changing the subject, his mother casually suggested, "I am hoping you will go with us tonight to Lady Stanislaw's dinner party. That lovely niece of hers, Susan Ellington, is visiting."

"That bluestocking! Mother, you are not trying to play matchmaker with her as your choice! Why, it is as bad as poor Lord Byron getting shackled to that mathematical Milbanke chit. Look what happened to him. They are already headed for a separation, and haven't been married a year!" he said astonished.

"That marriage was a mistake from the beginning. Never were two people so mismatched!" she answered shaking her head.

"As mismatched as this bluestocking you're proposing for me," Stephen muttered.

"Don't be impertinent, Stephen. You are aware that, at the present, Cedric Lovell, the son of your father's brother, is next in line as heir after you and all our Estates are entailed, along with the London House. I cannot think of anyone more unworthy to inherit all of this!" as she waved her hand in a sweeping motion.

"If I'm not mistaken Mother, that's exactly the same wording father used to describe me. He used the term worthless on many occasions," he said nonchalantly as he sipped his tea.

"Well, that is different, he was just trying to discipline you," she mumbled, knowing that her husband had been unfair, and favored his eldest son. "I want our Estates to stay in our hands, not some useless rake and gamester. Do you realize how fast he would gamble it all away? And then where would we go?" she asked, as her lips trembled.

Putting his cup aside, he leaned forward in his chair and firmly looked his mother in the eye. "Listen to me, Mother. If that ever comes to pass, you assuredly will not be penniless. Only the properties are entailed, not our fortune, and you do realize we are considered the third richest family in England."

"Well, I do worry. Every time your Aunt Cornelia comes by for a visit, she looks the estate over as if contemplating the redecoration for her son's occupancy. Does she not, Emily?" looking to her sister for agreement.

Stephen laughed, "I can picture that! She was never one of my favorites and I know that I amcertainly not one of hers. When I came back from the war with my wound infected, she must have called every day to see if I had recuperated, when it was more likely, that she hoped I had passed away during the night!"

"That woman! She made a pest of herself in those frightful days we were worrying over your health. Barging in at all hours of the day, giving orders to the servants. She was like that when she was young, with her condescending manner, and always demanding her way," Aunt Emily added fervently.

"So you see, Stephen, we cannot have that happen. You must make an effort to find a wife," his mother said to lead him back to her main topic.

"Mother, we are talking about my life, and it is my business whether I marry or not.  I have never expected to become the Earl of Raynhurst, or have I ever wanted to be, but since the inevitable happened, I will accept that responsibility and make sure the Estates stay in proper order. I will also take my seat in the House of Lords, along with the other social obligations that are required.  As for my getting leg-shackled and producing heirs, I will say this only once, do you understand? I will not, under any circumstances, be forced into marriage," silently he added,"again."

Standing up, and adjusting his sleeves on his blue superfine jacket, he said, "Now, charming ladies, if you will excuse me, I have packing to do, as I will be leaving in the morning for London to take care of business. And you may give my apologies to Lady Stanislaw for not attending her dinner party this evening." Taking his mother's hand and in a more gentle tone, he added, "Don't worry, my dear, I will always take care of you and Aunt Emily, as I do plan to be around a number of years yet."


Raynhurst maneuvered his high-perched phaeton, with his matched bays, through the busy London streets, dodging the street urchins as they scurried across in front of the carriages.  Pulling up to his Solicitors building on Piccadilly Street, he threw the reins to his groom, who had already leaped off and now was at the head of his horses.  He stepped down and surveyed the area, amazed at the changes that the City has undergone during the time he was on the Continent.

The most severe change he noticed, was the increase in the population of the impoverished, which intensified with the returning disabled veterans.  Shaking his head, as he went up the steps of the building, wondering, if by taking a seat in the House of Lords, he will be able to improve this situation. After fighting in the war for their country, they come home to nothing.  Unable to work and with no aid from their government, most have ended up as alcoholics, sleeping in doorways and alleys.

The solicitor Andrew McKennon, a short, elderly gentleman, with sparse grey hair, greeted him vigorously, and ushered his noble client into the office.

"It is an honor, Lord Raynhurst, that you took the time to pay me this call, I would most assuredly have met you at your London house, if you had requested," he said, as he motioned him toward a comfortable chair.

"I'm sure you would sir, except I prefer to keep this more on a private basis."

His curiosity aroused, Mr. McKennon begged him to continue.

"Before, I state my business, I realize you have been the solicitor for our family for more than twenty years, and understand that you have, during that time, been utterly trustworthy.  But, since I'm now the Earl of Raynhurst, and not previously acquainted with you, I want you to comprehend that this has to do with an absolutely confidential and personal matter."

Noticing Mr. McKennon's alert and intense expression, he continued, "Should anything related to what I tell you become a matter of public interest, and gossip, Mr. McKennon, you will find that you are no longer Solicitor for my family. I will make sure your indiscretion is made known, and you will be destroyed in the business community.  Is that clear?"

Mr. McKennon, who has always been an honorable man, bristled at the offense. "My lord, in all my years in business and in my private life, I have never been dishonorable.  My employees have been thoroughly checked out and are also trustworthy."

Raynhurst smiled and said, "I believe you, sir.  My apologies for any offense, but this is a most delicate matter."

Mollified, Mr. McKennon sat back in his chair. "Please let me know how I may be of service, my lord."

When Raynhurst finished telling him of the marriage, in a subdued version, he asked how he would get it dissolved.

Mr. McKennon sat with his fingers steepled beneath his chin for a moment longer, then answered, "First of all, we will have to find the records of this marriage, which most likely the church will have. You say you do not remember what church except it was not a Catholic Church, which for your sake will be easier for us to obtain the divorce."

"Since you admit you cannot remember the names of the girl or the witnesses, but are sure of the date, then we will start with that.  We will need that information to draw up the legal documents, and we will charge her with desertion to get a divorce.  It is your word against hers that you did not tell her to meet you here in England when the war ended.  You can always say you paid her for passage to England, and then never heard from her again.  We will have the divorce recorded in Spain to avoid any news leakage here in England.  I have a business associate in Madrid, who could handle it from his end, and he has always been reliable for his discretion.  I will send one of my investigators immediately to check out the information we are going to need."

As he listened to the solicitor's confident tone, he began to relax in the knowledge that this will soon be at an end, and a scandal avoided.  But, somewhere deep in his subconscious, he felt a remorse for causing the girl the humiliation and that heartbroken look he had seen in her eyes.
 
 

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