The Earl of Diamonds


France, 1816

Elise stood by the hotel window looking at the dwellings across the Seine river, as the spring rain shower ended. Somewhere over there, her grandfather had lived when he taught at the University of Paris.

"Water!" Anthony giggled, as he looked up at her and patted at the window where the rain was rolling down the glass.

Looking down at him, into his beautiful green eyes, she smiled, as she lifted him in her arms. "You are two-years old today and such a big boy!" she exclaimed. She felt an ache in her heart not being able to share this day with her husband.

Husband! How ironic, she should think of him as that. He wasn't a husband in the true sentence of the word. Only a person, who signed a marriage certificate under extreme force! How many times did she fantasize that one day he would come back to her, and say that he really and truly loved her? Wasting time worrying if he had been wounded in the war, or possibly killed, hoping that could be the only reason he had not returned. What a fool she had been!

Later that evening, after she had put Anthony to bed, Elise thought how much she missed her grandfather, and how he would have loved to be here with her in Paris. When the war had ended, they were making plans to return here. He had been so excited, telling her all about Paris, and the things they were going to do and see. Then his health deteriorated after being caught in a sudden storm and returning home with chills and a fever.

Her grandfather, near to death, had instructed her to see Ramon de Leon, the jeweler in Madrid. He said he could trust Ramon, and he would give her enough money for some of the jewels to see that she and her son, Anthony, had some financial stability. She was amazed to find that, for just a few pieces, he gave her what she considered a fortune. The jeweler was so helpful. He assisted her in the hiring of a traveling coach, and outriders with instructions on seeing her safely to Paris. Knowing she would never be back, she gave the farmhouse to Luis, before leaving with her son.

Now that she had been here for a few months, it brought back memories of her parents, who she only knew through stories from her Grandfather. Sitting at her dressing table, she opened the drawer and pulled out the leather jewelry box. Opening it, she took out the crumpled letter laying in the bottom of the box.

After holding the letter for a few moments, looking at the writing on the cover of the sealed letter, addressed to her mother, she turned it over and broke the seal.

"I guess it is time to open this and see just what kind of parent my mother had."

January 15, 1797
35 Russell St, Bath, England

My Dearest Eleanor,

You don't know how I worry about you, please let me know you are safe and healthy. Word has gotten through from our diplomatic couriers that you have a child. A girl they tell me. I cried when I heard the news, thanking God that you had a safe delivery, and I know she must be as beautiful as you were as a baby. It breaks my heart I could not be with you at your time of delivery, when you need your mother most at that important event in your life. The news of the terrible things happening in France is so upsetting, and I cannot but fear the worst. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me, for waiting so long to reach out to you, but your father absolutely forbade me to contact you. He has, as of two months ago, passed away from some sort of infection that developed into a poison of his system. Your brother Edward, has succeeded him, as the Duke of Westborough, and as you know, his disposition was not much better than your father's. He has married the Covington girl, Lord Atwater's eldest, and her personality is as cold as Edward's, so they are well suited. Your brother, Michael, is still very thoughtful and has often asked about you. He had enlisted into the navy last year, and now has sailed to the Americas. I am living in Bath, as I could not abide sharing the same house with Edward's wife, and because of a rheumatism I seemed to have developed, I have taken to the waters' here.

Dear Eleanor, please I beg you, write to me and let me know how you are, for I do love you and think of you often.

Always and sincerely with my most affectionate regards,

Your Mother

Elise could hardly see the last sentence as the tears blurred her vision. How long she must have waited for an answer to her letter . . . not knowing what had happened to her daughter. Did anyone ever tell her?

Wiping the last of the tears away, Elise went to the desk to write a letter to her maternal grandmother. She related all that had happened for the past fifteen years, and what her paternal grandfather had told her of her mother and father's life together. Without all the details of her marriage, she mentioned marrying a soldier who never returned from the war.

In the back of her mind, she had a faint hope that her grandmother would wish to see her granddaughter, and her great-grandson.

The London Season was at it's busiest, with all the ladies of the ton striving to outdo each other for extravagance. The young misses in their first season, were hoping to find an eligible, titled, and preferably rich, gentleman, so they would not have to face the humiliation of returning for a second or third season. The gentlemen would look the young ladies over as if they were prize cattle; for their appearance, how submissive and manageable, and if the body was built for breeding . . . preferably a male heir.

"I say, Raynhurst, what do you think of that lovely little gel in pink? M'mother is after me to make up my mind soon, and for the life of me I think they're all a bit too insipid this season," asked Lord Delacorte.  He raised his quizzing glass, and surveyed the row of eligible young misses sitting on the other side of the ballroom, turning his head slowly, being careful not to poke his cheek on the high pointed collars of his shirt. He was dressed in the fashion of a Dandy, except for his purple-flowered waistcoat that was straining at the buttons over his chubby stomach.

"Sorry, Delly, but your asking the wrong person. You know what I think of these marriageable misses." Raynhurst said.

"Yes, I know, but not all of us are fortunate enough to stay clear like you. I wish I could just settle for a mistress the way you do. Speaking of which . . . didn't you just change again, to that dazzling widow, Lady Caroline Simpson? It's a good thing your not setting them up in a love-nest. Otherwise, you would have an appalling turnover of occupancy, as they passed each other in their moving. And, of course, your diamond bracelets are all over town!"

"You exaggerate my powers with the fair sex. None of that gossip is true. It is amazing, though, how many lovely widows there are available this season," Raynhurst laughed.

"Are you going to White's later?" Lord Delacorte asked, as he headed toward the group of young ladies.

"No, I am making it an early evening. I have a meeting with my solicitor in the morning," Raynhurst answered, as he turned to leave he added, "Good luck with your one in pink"

Walking toward the front entrance, he reflected on the reputation he had. He had not indulged in that lifestyle since his return from the war. Most of the women he had flirted with, had not developed into anything intimate, except for a couple of exceptional women. Why do I bother with them? How frustrating it is, looking for gratification, when I cannot stop thinking of the girl in Spain.

Cedric Lovell, threw down his cards and mopped his forehead with his handkerchief. He signed the voucher and rising from his chair said, "I believe I will quit for this evening, Gentlemen."

Lord Crofton frowning, looked at him with narrowed eyes, "Mr. Lovell, you will honor these vouchers by tomorrow afternoon, I trust," he said coldly, tapping the vouchers he held.

"Yes, Yes, of course," Cedric replied stiffly.

"Good, for according to my calculation, it is rather a large amount you owe," he reminded him.

"I know exactly what I owe you, Crofton. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have another engagement," he said as he turned to leave.

Cedric left the notorious gaming hell on Jermyn Street and climbed into his carriage. His thoughts were on his latest run of bad luck, not admitting that he has never been fortunate in gambling.  His dissipated lifestyle had kept him running back to the gaming hells on a daily basis, to try to recoup his fortune he had fritter away for the past five years.

"If Raynhurst had been killed in the war instead of just wounded, I would have been the Earl of Raynhurst by now!" he muttered. "Well, one good thing, he had not married, and most likely never will, since he prefers the demimonde, or an illicit affair with someone's wife.

Maybe with a little luck, some irate husband will kill him in a duel!" he smiled, as he stared out the window at the early morning dawn. "Maybe I could find a way to hurry the event. Yes, why not? I'm sure there must be many irate husbands to choose from for the deed," he mused.

Arriving at the solicitor's office, Raynhurst said, "I received your message.  I assume you have found all the necessary information you need to proceed?"

Mr. McKennon moved to his desk and offered a drink as Raynhurst took his chair. After pouring the wine, he waited till the gentleman was settled with his glass, and pulled the file folder toward him.

"I do have most of the information, but I think there is something you should be made aware of," he paused, then added, "The young lady has a child . . . a son born exactly nine months to the day from your wedding date."

Raynhurst looked up startled, nearly spilling the wine on his waistcoat. "That's impossible!"

"No . . . it is quite possible to get pregnant on the first time with only one, uh, consummation. And since the date is so exact, it is hard to believe anything else, unless there was another man just before you."

"There wasn't.  She was a virgin," Raynhurst said.  He thought back to that night which he has lived over and over again in his mind these past three years.  He knew every detail of that passionate night, and how many times he made love to her. It was not only once, for he couldn't get enough of her, and awakening in the morning shocked at discovering she had been a virgin.

"What happens now?" he asked, after he mentally pulled himself together.

"Legally, you are married, that much we proved from the records. But, with the child, and a son at that, he is now your heir if you wished to acknowledge him. If not, we will proceed as planned. She will not know who you are . . . I mean your aristocratic status . . . to cause any trouble later. We do have one other problem, which will cause a delay. It seems her grandfather died and she has left Spain. Checking with the neighbors, Luis and Maria Herrera, who were the witnesses at your marriage, she gave them the farmhouse, and kept nothing except what she could carry along with her son. So far, they claim not to know where she went."

Raynhurst stunned by all this information, stared into his wine glass. I have a son, an heir, and they have disappeared. If she left Spain, what is she doing about money? How will she care for the boy? The more his mind muddled over the facts, the more it became apparent that the divorce wasn't important. He just wanted her and the boy to be safe.

"My Lord? Are you all right?" McKennon asked anxiously

"Oh . . . uh . . . yes. How do we find her?"

"Well, as to that, I have a good investigative team working on it as we speak. It may take awhile but we do have a fairly good description of her, and my men are good at what they do," he said confidently.

"I don't care how much it cost, double . . . triple the amount of men. I want her found quickly. Anything can happen to her, a woman and a child wandering around only God knows where or for how long! Forget about the divorce for now. I just want her safe!" he said, covering his eyes with his hand to fight the mixed emotions building inside him.

After Raynhurst left, Mr. McKennon sat staring out his window, deciding where to start.  Reluctantly he stood up.

"I will have to make a trip to Spain, after all," he sighed.

Cornelia Lovell, waited at the top of the stairs, as her son, Cedric, entered the front door, handing his hat and gloves to the butler.

As he started up the stairs, she took in his disheveled looks, and scathingly said, "You look disgusting! You've been gone for two days and have the nerve to be seen on the streets in that condition. Where have you been?"

Pushing her aside, as he made his way to the library, he growled "Lay off Mother. I'm not in the mood for your nagging!" She followed him into the library, shutting the door, to keep the servants from hearing their latest altercation.

Watching him pour himself a brandy, gulp it down and refill the glass, she surveyed the once handsome man, noting his dissipated appearance. His blond hair was beginning to thin, and his face had a sallow look with deep lines showing on the sides of his mouth. She thought he has sunk lower than he had ever been, and she will have to turn him around in his ways if there is any hope to inherit the title. Thank heaven, Raynhurst has no interest in marriage.

"The mail is full of demand-for-payment notices. You have been going through your inheritance until there will be nothing left," she remarked.

"I have news for you, Mother, there is nothing left!" as he raised his glass.

"What are you saying?" she gasped.

"I believe you heard me correctly. We now have pockets-to-let," he smiled as he watched his 'Oh-so-correct and domineering' mother's stiff posture crumble.

"I tried to recoup my losses, but my luck has been abominably bad lately," he shrugged, swirling the brandy in the glass.

Cornelia Lovell, sat down in the nearest chair, and being of a forceful nature, would not let setbacks get in her way.

"Pour me a glass, Cedric" she said in her usual demanding tone.  As he poured her drink, her active mind reeled around possible plans.

"I can think of only one course to take, and that is for you to marry an heiress. But then, your scandalized behavior and reputation would turn away any matchmaking mamas, or even let you near their dear daughters," she said scathingly.

"Well, as to that, I did see this lovely chit the other day. Her father is a wealthy merchant," he contemplated.

"In trade! Never! Why . . . what could be worse than marrying someone in trade!" she shrieked.

"Something worse is what we have now, Mother" he reminded her, "Besides, not only would she solve my financial problems, but she certainly would make a charming bed-warmer," he chuckled.

"Don't be impertinent. You will not marry anyone in trade!" she said firmly.

"Right now, I think the best think for you to do . . . ," as she continued, "is take a repairing-lease to our Norfolk estate. In the meantime, I will make inquiries as to all eligible and wealthy girls coming out in the next Season," she said, glaring at her son with narrowed eyes, daring him to contradict her suggestion.

He sighed, "Your right, Mother . . . as usual. I will leave tomorrow for the country." After I take care of a little item tonight, he thought. Putting down his glass, he headed for the door.

Cedric, completely attired in black, stood concealed in the unlit doorway as the night watchman passed by making his rounds. After the watchman turned the corner on Curzon Street, Cedric slipped out of the side gate of the town house on Half Moon Street.

Feeling in his pocket, he fingered the coolness of the bracelet. "How easy this is," he chuckled. "Two houses in one night and no one the wiser. Raynhurst could care less that his diamond bracelets are being pilfered, and who will listen to one of his high-flyers if she cries theft?" he thought as he made his way to his carriage.

Once in the privacy of his coach, he quickly proceeded to remove the diamonds from both bracelets. Carefully storing the sixteen flawless diamonds into a velvet pouch, Cedric drove his carriage through the darkened streets to the bank of the Thames River. With the diamonds securely stored in his pocket, he tossed the discarded bracelets into the river, then made his way back home to pack for his trip to Norfolk.

The carriage trip from Dover to Bath, was tiresome for an energetic boy. He bounced back and forth from window to window, looking at the horses, cows, and sheep that grazed in the pastures along the countryside, until he finally fell asleep.

Elise was grateful her grandmother had sent the travelling coach, with footmen and outriders, to meet her at the quay in Dover where the packet from Calais had docked. The coachman had seen to their nightly arrangements, and comfort, at the various inns along the way.

When she arrived at Dover, Elise was amazed at the crowd on the docks until someone told her it was because Lord Byron was leaving England that day. She had read earlier in the newspaper of Byron's divorce, and had overheard in Paris, the rumors of his homosexuality and incest with his sister. She wished that people would not gossip like that, and start such vicious stories to ruin a person's reputation. They even admitted that there was no proof . . . only rumors, and still they insisted on repeating the scandalous gossip. Then Elise caught a glimpse of him strolling on the quay with his pronounced limp, and she sighed over his Byronic look when he happened to turn in her direction. She loved his poetry, and now that she had seen him in person she would make an effort to find his latest volume at a bookseller when she arrived at Bath.

Elise looking out the window was surprise to note they had indeed arrived in that city, and now she was anxious to see her grandmother. She didn't realize how lonely she was, and frightened at facing the world alone, with no place to call home.

The coach pulled up to a lovely Georgian house attractively landscaped. Observing how pleasing and inviting it looked, Elise let out a sigh of relief. She straightened her bonnet, and smoothed her light-blue traveling outfit as a footman opened the carriage door, and let down the step. Elise had to hold Anthony back from leaping right at him. She alighted, and taking Anthony's hand, approached the steps to the front entrance. As she reached the top step, the door opened and a woman, in her early sixties, in a green merino dress, stood leaning heavily on a cane, watched her approach. Looking up into her face, Elise felt immediate recognition of a vague familiarity. She had the same blue-violet eyes as her own that still showed an alertness and intelligence. The hair was golden, streaked with silver, and still lustrous in an upswept style. Her physical appearance, except for the use of the cane, had a stateliness that defined her nobility. But the most significant thing to Elise was the kindness expressed on her lovely face.

Lydia Carlisle, the dowager Duchess of Westborough, reached out her hand to Elise, and with a smile greeted her warmly.

"Oh my dear, you are so much like my Eleanor. The absolute identical image!" the duchess exclaimed, as she kissed Elise on the cheek.

"And is this my great grandson? What a handsome boy you are!" She leaned down and gave him a hug. Pushing the lock of hair off his forehead, she looked closely and said. "Oh my! Did you hurt your head?"

Anthony touched his head, and looked at his mother bewildered.

Elise patted his shoulder, "No, no he is not hurt, that is his birthmark. Remember, Anthony, I told you about it?" she said reassuringly.

Anthony nodded, "Papa's" he said touching his chubby fingers on the birthmark.

Elise explained, "His father, Stephen, has a birthmark just like that, and he informed me that his father also had one. Sort of a family trait he said," she shrugged.

The grandmother looked again closer at the mark. "How unusual," she murmured, thinking she had seen one similar on someone else years ago, then smiling at Anthony, said cheerfully, "Well, I guess that makes' you a very special boy!"

"Come in, Come in, so we can get you settled."

Elise laughed and relaxed her tense body, she knew that everything was finally going to be all right.

"I have your rooms ready, and I have hired a nurse for young Anthony, if you don't mind my going ahead with making those arrangements," she asked, guiding Elise into the front hall.

"No, I don't mind at all, it has been a long trip, and I'm grateful for your thoughtfulness, your grace," she replied.

Her grandmother stopped and turned to Elise. With a hopeful expression, she said "I do hope you will call me Grandmother. I have looked forward to it for so long."

Elise gave her a hug, and with a smile said, "Yes Grandmother, I have wished for that too!"

"Well, now that is settled," she said, with a quick squeeze to Elise's hand, "let me take you to your rooms so you can have a nice soaking bath, and a rest before dinner.  Agnes, one of my maids, will be your abigail, so you can ask her for anything you may need," as she slowly mounted the steps, with the help of her cane.

"Abigail?" Elise questioned.

"Yes my dear, your private maid, who will help you dress and fix your hair.  She will bring your hot-chocolate in the morning, and ever so many other things. Whatever you may need."

"Oh goodness! I have never had a maid, and have always dressed myself!" Elise said.

Her grandmother laughed, "I remember you telling me about Spain in your letter, and how you lived . . . it was so hard to imagine . . . I know I could never have managed that way. But now that you are here, you will find a whole new lifestyle. One I am sure you will enjoy. Believe me, my dear Elise, I'm going to have as much fun as you!"

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