The Earl of Diamonds
Raynhurst arrived at McKennon's office immediately on hearing of the solicitor's return from Spain. For the past few months, he could think of nothing but the fate of Elise and his son. Never had he thought a woman could have such a power over his emotions, especially since he had only spend that one night with her. He was glad he married her, no matter what society will think when they find out he married a poor peasant from God only knows what kind of background. She belonged to him, and he wanted to possess her so that no other man could have her. He wanted his son that was a part of her.
If only she and the boy are found safe, he would go to her and apologize for not returning to her and try to make up for his irresponsibility.
As he entered the office, Mr. McKennon rose and met him with an exceedingly warm greeting.
"Lord Raynhurst, I am happy to give you the most amazing news concerning your wife! Please have a seat, for I believe you should be sitting when I tell you!"
"Are she and the boy safe?" he asked anxiously as he sat down.
"Oh, most assuredly! But let me disclose what I have found. With the help of my associate in Madrid, we were able to trace her background. Since the war is over, it is easier to find these records. It seems her grandfather, Philip Areant, a French aristocrat, was also a professor at the University of Paris. His son, a French Diplomat, eloped with Eleanor Carlisle, an English girl who was the daughter of . . . you'll never guess . . . the 9th Duke of Westborough!"
He paused to note the astonished expression on Raynhurst's face, and gratified, he continued, "It seems your wife's inheritance, just from her grandfather's side, has made her enormously wealthy, as the jeweler we found in Madrid confirmed. He had given her a substantial amount of currency for a selection of very fine jewelry, and she still had many pieces left in her case. The jeweler said her grandfather, over the past fifteen years, would cash in pieces of jewelry maybe once or twice a year." As an afterthought he added, "I would advise you to think again about going through with a divorce, my lord, as she certainly seems well suited to your station in life."
While taking this all in, Raynhurst's emotions ran from relief that she was safe, then astonishment of her background, to anger that she had deceived him in to thinking she was nothing but an indigent country girl. To think he wasted all these months feeling guilty, and worried about her welfare! Cashing in expensive jewelry? He remembered the old worn-thin ring she used at the wedding, while all the time she had a cache of fine jewels hidden away. Finally the anger took over all other emotions.
"Where is that lying, deceitful little wretch?" he raged at the solicitor.
Shocked at his lordship's attitude, he answered cautiously.
"Uh . . . Well, my lord, as a matter of fact, we are still working on that, but I thought it prudent to let you know right away of her amazing family connections, and that she did not go away penniless . . . to ease your mind, of course," he stammered.
Raynhurst glared at him, and said, "I want my wife and son. Do you understand? I want them found and brought to England. And you are right, I have thought again about the divorce and you can forget about it! But, until they are found and brought here, I insist you still keep this confidential, I do not want word of my marriage made public until I am ready to make the announcement. I will be at my estate in Sussex. You can reach me there." Without another word, Raynhurst stormed out of the office.
Still in a black mood from the revelation, he called to his groom to get the phaeton. Raynhurst hopped in and headed for White's to have a few drinks and try to sort out his emotions. He didn't know whether to be relieved that she turned out to be everything he had ever wanted, a woman who was beautiful, passionate, and of the highest eligibility, not to mention already producing an heir. Or infuriated that he had been trapped into a marriage that has become a difficult situation.
He entered White's and went into the lounge. At one of the tables near the bar, sat two of his friends, both high spirited Corinthians, and members of the Four-in-hand Club which Raynhurst was also a member.
"Hallo, Raynhurst, come join us," Sir Harry called cheerfully. After Raynhurst had taken a seat, he leaned forward, and in a lowered tone, said, "I say, did you know your bracelets are so popular, they're getting snatched?"
Distracted from his inner emotional turmoil, Raynhurst gave him a quizzical look
"What are you talking about, Harry?" he muttered as he motioned for the waiter to bring him a drink.
"It seems, two of your ladybirds had their bracelets lifted on the very same night a few weeks ago. Haven't you heard? It is all over town. They reported the theft, but Bow Street had no leads to follow so that put an end to it," he replied.
The waiter returned immediately, with a bottle of brandy, and retreated to a discreet distance out of hearing range.
"The word going around now, Raynhurst, is that your little doves are going to want replacements. Are you going to show your generosity to them again?" Lord Bennington queried.
Raynhurst picked up his glass, and said scornfully, "How idiotic! If they are so shatterbrained that they cannot take care of their valuables, then let them whine about it and do without. I have enough problems of my own!"
Suddenly alert with curiosity, Lord Bennington asked, "Any problem you would like to share with us? A new lady giving you a bad time? We're always willing to listen to a friend."
"Cut line, Bennington. You're only looking for some juicy gossip, which I have no intentions of supplying." He steered their thoughts away from him, and back to the subject of the theft.
"Were the bracelets the only jewelry taken? I know that anyone I had favored, always had more jewelry than they ever bothered wearing."
"That is what is causing the talk. Only your bracelets were taken, none of the other jewelry. It is also being whispered about, that some other . . . uh, lady . . . was so jealous you didn't fancy her, that she stole the bracelets!" Sir Harry said, awed at Raynhurst's reputation.
"And another thing," Sir Harry added, "an Army officer in a lounge at a Bond Street hotel, was telling some young bucks he was drinking with, that in Spain, you were called the Earl of Diamonds. Also, that you kept track of all your love affairs by putting the number on the back of the clasp!"
Lord Bennington laughed, "The most hilarious part of the gossip, . . . are you ready for this Raynhurst? The two victims of the thefts have gotten together, and are planning to confront everyone with a bracelet to check the numbers on the back of each clasp to see if it was their number."
Sir Harry snickered, "Got any idea, Raynhurst, how many numbers are out there among all the lovely ladies?"
"Why it might take them years just checking numbers!" teased Lord Bennington, as he doubled up with laughter, and Sir Harry choked on his drink.
Frowning, Raynhurst finished his drink and rose from his chair. He said coolly, "I guess if I'm ever going to find any peace and quiet, I might as well leave tonight for my Estate. Good night, gentlemen," with a slight nod to his friends, he strolled to the door.
Elise's first week in Bath was a whirlwind of shopping. They shopped for walking dresses, morning dresses, riding outfits and ball gowns, also the accessories of hats, shoes, gloves, fans and reticules. Her grandmother bought almost as many for herself along with Elise's, and as the days went by they became closer. Elise thought her life could not have been better.
While on one of their shopping trips to Milsom Street, they stopped for tea in a quaint tearoom, brightened by sunlight and decorated with flowering plants.
After being served, her grandmother remarked, "I can't remember when I have had such a good time shopping! You know, even my rheumatism is not bothering me as much, and I owe it all to you! I believe many of my aches and pains were just due to an acute case of boredom and depression."
Smiling, as she stirred her tea, Elise listened to her grandmother's cheerful voice, thinking that she did look healthier, and more animated than when she first saw her. And she wasn't relying on the cane as much either.
Her grandmother continued, "Now that we have a good deal of the shopping out of the way, we will have to properly introduce you to society, with visits to worthy notables now in town, and attendance to the assemblies. Oh Dear! I must see about getting you a dancing master, for I'm sure you had no such thing in your provincial countryside!" she finished in a fluster.
Then as another thought came to mind, she inquired, "Elise, you never mention your husband. Did you ever find out what became of him? Did you write to the war office for information? It must be terrible not knowing if he is dead or alive. After all, you are only twenty, and surely you will be thinking of marriage again if he is dead."
Elise looked down at her teacup, thoughtfully, before answering.
"What I have said, about my husband being a soldier and never returning, is true. But, there is more. At the time I felt so humiliated that I thought I would never be able to speak of it, but I feel I can confide in you, and I do want to tell you, Grandmother."
"Oh, Elise, whatever it is, you know I will understand," she said, and reached across the table to touch her hand in a compassionate gesture.
Elise as complete, but as discreetly as she could through words in a shaky voice, relived that memorable night and the next day. When she finished, the grandmother handed her a handkerchief to wipe her tears.
"I have been such a fool!" Elise whispered, keeping her head lowered as not to attract attention, although they were in a very quiet corner of the room.
"Dear, there is no way that you are to blame for what happened. You have led a very shelter, and innocent life tucked away in the country. From what I gather, he was a very handsome man, and generally speaking, they are the kind to be a very smooth talker in getting what they want! Your grandfather did the right thing insisting on the marriage. It would have been a terrible folly if he had not, especially since you did get pregnant. Did you get a copy of the marriage document?" she asked.
Elise nodded, and said, "Grandpapa insisted. Also, when Anthony was born, we received a copy of that document when it was recorded in the church."
Her grandmother took her hand again, "And speaking of Anthony, you can be thankful you have such a beautiful, healthy little boy . . . so, when you think back upon that day, remember, something wonderful did happen."
Elise looked at her and smiled, "You do know how to make me feel better!"
"Where did you get the name of Anthony, Elise? Is it a relative's name?" she inquired.
Blushing, Elise said, "It was the name of the hero in the novel I had been reading when Stephen came to my door."
"Well . . . how appropriate!" her grandmother replied, and they both laughed as they got up to leave the tearoom.
Her grandmother thought as they headed back toward the carriage I think I will contact Sir Leland at the War Office, and see if he can discreetly check on a Major Stephen Taggart. It is best to know if he is alive or dead. Elise may someday want to remarry, and she will certainly have to know then!
The rays of the sun coming through the window brightened Elise's hair as Agnes brushed it into an upswept fashion. Agnes sighed, "Ye 'ave the prettiest color of 'air I 'ave ever seen. 'Tis fairly shimmering' in the sunshine"
"Now, Agnes your hair is practically the same color as mine!" she laughed.
"Well ma'am, 'taint the same fer me. Ye 'ave such a lovely face, and I think when 'e passed 'em out the Good Lord forgot 'bout me," she answered, making a face at herself in the mirror.
Agnes, a few years older that Elise, had an animated, comely face that was appealing, along with a lithesome shape that has already won her the attention of her grandmother's new footman.
"Well, I think your pretty, Agnes. And so does Robert, the footman. I have noticed him watching you when you were not looking," she teased.
Blushing Agnes duck her head and put the brush back on the dressing
table. "'e is a 'andsum bloke, ain't 'e?"
In the sunny morning-room, Elise sat on the settle with Anthony, reading a story, while the grandmother was busily going through the mail that was delivered.
"Good Lord! What a bumble broth this is!" she said astonished, as she was reading a letter.
Elise looked up curiously, "Is something wrong?"
"Oh my yes! I mean no . . . Oh dear. I don't know what I mean. Oh Elise!" she looked at her granddaughter with a look of elation and consternation mixed together.
"Whatever is the matter? Is it anything you can tell me?"Elise asked. Bewildered as the normally calm duchess looked as if she were in a state of shock.
Her grandmother took a sip of her tea, and then a couple of deep breaths before confiding what she had just learned in a letter from Sir Leland of the War Office in answer to her inquiries.
"To start with, I took it upon myself to inquire as to your husband's health, so to speak, if still among the living. I hope you do not mind, as I thought it was important for you to know." Elise nodded with interest, and her grandmother continued, "I wrote to my friend, Sir Leland, at the War Office in London, and this is his reply," as she shook the letter in her hand for emphasis.
"Your husband, Major Stephen Taggart, is alive and well, and not only that . . . he is also the Earl of Raynhurst!"
"What . . . what . . . does that mean?" shaking her head in confusion "Are you telling me that my husband is not just a soldier after all, but a member of England's nobility like you are?" Elise asked shakily.
"That is exactly what I am saying! He is an Earl, and being married to you, that makes you a Countess and your son, Anthony, the Raynhurst heir," she answered gleefully.
Then, with a little more thought, she added, "That is, if he wasn't already married before he met you, or if not, it has been three years . . . I wonder if he filed for a divorce from you! I will write today to one of my close friends, Lady Cecily Hughes, in London, she knows all the latest on-dit of the ton, and can get the status on the Earl of Raynhurst," she said with enthusiasm as she started to go to her writing desk.
"Wait, Grandmother! Let me think about this first. You have just completely overwhelmed me with all this . . . I need time to adjust . . . is this going to affect my Anthony? I don't want him hurt in anyway, and I don't want him taken away from me," she said in a pleading voice.
Her grandmother turned around, and came back to Elise. Taking her in her arms, she said, "I'm so sorry dear! I did not mean to upset you. Of course we will not rush into anything. No one knows about you, and Sir Leland certainly does not know the reason I had made the inquiry. We will go about this very confidentially, and I will inquire discreetly of Raynhurst."
Anthony, during this altercation, saw the distress on his mother's face. "Maman not cry," he said soothingly, as he patted her arm.
Elise sighed and smiled, "No Anthony, I will not cry" and gave him a hug. Hoping that whatever happens in this new dilemma, she and Anthony will never end up crying.
Lydia watched the two most precious persons in her life, and wished with all her heart she will be able to help them. Praying that Raynhurst was not already married before he met Elise.
As Anthony turned toward her, the Duchess pushed the lock of hair off his forehead. Seeing the birthmark she said suddenly, "Of course! That's where I saw that before! Lady Marion's husband, Walter, had one just like it. Walter Taggart, yes, in fact, he also had green eyes now that I remember. He was quite the handsomest man at the balls when Eleanor had her come-out. Lady Marion and Eleanor were bosom-bows back then, although Lady Marion was a few years older than my Eleanor," she mused.
"You know, I could write to Lady Marion, and ask her how she is getting along, and inquire of her family, or if her son had married . . . discreetly, of course . . . and tell her I had been thinking of her lately. She would not think it at all strange my asking. She most likely will be happy to hear from me."
Elise nodded in agreement. "But remember Grandmother, please be discreet," she implored.
The Earl of Raynhurst, strolled into the breakfast room, and greeted his mother and Aunt Emily.
"Did you have a nice ride this morning, dear?" she asked as she sorted through her mail.
"Very nice Mother, it is good being back at the Estate after the noise of London. Is there a letter from my solicitor in that mess?" he asked as he filled his plate at the buffet.
"No, I do not see any, are you expecting one? You have spent quite a lot of time with that solicitor these past months, I have noticed. Well, I will let you know as soon as one arrives, if it is important," she said solicitously.
"Yes Mother, thank you, it is important" he said, as he came to the table and sat down.
"Well for heaven's sake! Here is a letter from Lydia, Eleanor's mother! She is living in Bath now."
"Eleanor?" Raynhurst quizzed.
"Oh, you do not know Eleanor, Stephen, she was a friend of mine years ago, before you were born. Her mother, the Duchess of Westborough, has written," she said complacently.
Raynhurst, startled, spilt his coffee. "The Duchess of Westborough wrote you?" He asked, wondering if somehow she had heard of his marriage.
"Yes, we were quite good friends years ago, when Eleanor and I were bosom-bows. She tells me that she had definite news of poor Eleanor's fate in France during the revolution," as she read along, "it seems Eleanor and her husband were killed, but her daughter escaped with her husband's father . . . oh! I did not know Eleanor had a daughter! I am so glad . . . Eleanor was quite the loving person and would have made a good mother . . . remember Emily? How pretty Eleanor was? She had the prettiest blue-violet eyes and honey-gold hair!"
"Yes, Marion, Eleanor was quite the toast of the ton. What a scandal she created when she eloped with that Frenchman," Aunt Emily remarked.
Raynhurst listened overwhelmed. Blue-violet eyes and honey-colored hair, how will he ever forget her?
Anxiously, he asked, "What else does she say? Does she say what happened to Eleanor's daughter . . . or . . . ," he added cautiously, "does she know where she is?"
"No, she did not mention where she is, just that she escaped. She does ask about you though, and wonders if you ever married." Looking at her son, "I certainly wish I could tell her yes," she said meaningfully.
"We have been through this before, Mother," he admonished, as he thought about the meaning of the Duchesses' inquiry. She must know something. It is strange that after all these years she would pick this time to write. And he began to think of a plan.
"You know Mother, you and Aunt Emily have not been out and about lately, why don't the two of you take a trip to Bath? I would be most happy to escort you, as I had not been there in quite sometime. I could lease a house in a convenient location. It would do the two of you a world of good, with that healthy water and all," he said complacently.
"Why, Stephen! What a lovely idea. Don't you think Emily? I would dearly love to see Lydia again. I will write and tell her of our plans."
Excitedly, she and Aunt Emily made their way out of the breakfast room, chattering of what to take with them.
"Would you believe I have two letters today, my dear?" said her grandmother as she opened the first.
"This one is from my friend, Lady Hughes, in London, and the other is from Marion," she said, as she started to read the first letter. "She certainly keeps up with the gossip. From what she has heard being talked of in the ton, the Earl of Raynhurst is quite the elusive and the most eligible bachelor about town. He refuses to take out any of the young misses on the marriage mart, and spends his time with the merry widows and ladies of the demimonde. He changes mistresses like he changes his coat, so she says here . . . and never seems to have a serious affection for any of them."
"It is hard to believe we are talking about my husband . . . the one who I thought was just an ordinary soldier," Elise reflected, as she stared out the window trying to picture Stephen, as this fashionable bachelor, chasing all the ladies in town.
As her grandmother put down that letter and picked up the one from Raynhurst's mother, she said, "I too, am amazed at this reputation he has acquired."
"Well, let us see what his mother says," as she opened the letter.
"She says, she has recuperated after the deaths of her son, Gilbert, and her husband, Walter, and she is thankful her son, Stephen, has returned from the army. No, he is not married yet, but she is still hopeful he will be soon, now that he is the Earl. She says, he spends a lot of time on restoration and upgrading the farming of the Estate since his return. Well, that does not sound like a wild bachelor! Also, time in London, with his solicitor these past few months."
Looking at Elise, she pondered, "Consults with his solicitor . . . do you suppose that means he is contemplating a divorce?"
Shaken at the thought, Elise could only murmur, "I wish I knew."
Returning to the letter, her grandmother suddenly gasped, "Elise! They are coming here . . . well, not here at the house . . . but to Bath! Marion says, she was so happy to hear from me after so many years, and after talking it over with her sister Emily, and Stephen, they decided to visit Bath. They will be leasing a house . . . she does not say how long they will stay . . . but they will be arriving sometime next week," she said, looking at Elise in apprehension.
Elise stood up and started pacing the parlor floor. He is coming here! She thought in trepidation. Turning to her grandmother, she said in alarm, "I cannot face him! It is too humiliating to see him after what had happened when Grandpapa came in that door with a pistol, and then that awful wedding ceremony!" She covered her face with her hands.
Her grandmother came to her, patting her gently on the shoulder said, "There, there . . . we will work it out. You know you will have to face him sometime, especially since he is the Earl of Raynhurst."
"You have to think of Anthony, too. He looks so much like him that sooner or later, someone is going to remark on the resemblance, and the birthmark, since Raynhurst is so well known in the ton. You would not want a scandal connected with Anthony, would you?" she said soothingly, as she led her to a chair.
"No, of course not. Anthony is my most important concern, and I should be thinking of his future. I am going to have to put aside my pride, and think rationally. It is obvious he has never loved me. I was just a foolish rustic with romantic notions," she said, as she sat straighter in her chair and raised her chin in a resolute manner.
"That's my girl!" said her grandmother reassuring her. "We will meet him . . . head on, toe to toe. You have every right, with all those documents you possess, to stand firm, as a Countess should . . . which you are, and even if he is obtaining a divorce, you still have rights under the law! Let us see what he has to say for himself, when he meets you. He does not know you are here, so we will take him completely off guard."
Elise was amazed at how her grandmother could always make her feel better. From feeling sorry for herself, she went to facing a challenge. When he showed up here, she would remember that her blood was just as blue as his. She had no reason to feel humiliated, for he was as much to blame as she, and he did try to buy her off like one of his light-skirts she thought angrily. He would have never treated her like that if she had lived here with her grandmother, instead of the farmhouse, at the time it happened! The more she thought about it, the more the resentment toward him escalated.
"Do you think I should seek a solicitor too? I would not know what to do if he suddenly produces divorce papers. For, I am certain they would have something to do with Anthony," Elise speculated.
"No . . . not yet," her grandmother answered, "We would not want too many people knowing the situation, until we talk to him. Otherwise, we will surely be facing a scandal. When they come by for a visit, we will act nonchalantly, and see how he reacts. I cannot but think, when Marion finds out . . . she will be delighted! Her wish for her son to be married, and here he is already with an heir, and a wife of an impeccable background. What more could she want?"
Pulling the bell cord for a servant to bring tea, she said "Now,
let us discuss what you should wear that day."
* * * *
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