All three men were on the ground. Wiglet and the other were struggling into a sitting position, but Bartlebee just lay sprawled on the marble, mouth open and eyes closed. Unconscious, he didn’t look nearly as menacing. His jaw was narrow and his teeth jutted up like white turnips overgrowing their planting.
“Dear me,” Simeon said. “I do believe that Mr. Bartlebee may have suffered neck damage. It’s always a possibility with Eastern arts of defense.” He prodded Bartlebee with his foot and the man groaned but didn’t move. “He seems to be alive,” Simeon said, turning to the two men climbing to their feet. “As I believe he himself said, it’s so easy to kill people. I always have to remind myself not to strike too hard.”
“You’ll have to make a note of it,” Isidore said, keeping laughter and triumph out of her voice with an effort. Then she readjusted her hold on the dowager, who was still sagging against her, and skewered Wiglet and his compatriot with her glare. “You’re lucky the duke didn’t lame you for life after the way you frightened his mother!”
“Bartlebee will be dazed for a time,” Simeon told them. His tone was quiet, not at all triumphant. “I suggest you leave him here and finish the task you have at hand.”
“Need I repeat myself?” Simeon’s voice was utterly calm, but Wiglet quailed as if he’d leveled a weapon at them.
He swallowed and then opened his hand. A dusky ruby rolled onto the ground and bounced once, rolling to a rest next to Bartlebee’s elbow.
“Are you second in command?” Simeon asked.
“Yeth,” Wiglet said. His lip was already swollen to twice normal size.
“Right then, get on with it. You’ll know in an hour or two whether your commander will ever walk again. I do hope that there’ll be no further reason for me to feel concern about my safety, or the safety of my wife, my mother, or my possessions.”
Wiglet backed away quickly. “Never, Yer Grace,” he gobbled. “Not in the least. I mean, never.” He and the other man stepped through the door into the water closet, presumably throwing themselves down the hole in their fervor to get away from Simeon.
The dowager pulled herself to a standing position. “My jewels!” she said. “On the floor with those filthy, ravening beasts. I shall never feel the same about them, never!”
Simeon bent down to pick up the stones.
“Get up!” she shrieked, her voice suddenly strong. “That’s a job for a servant, as I shouldn’t have to tell you!”
“Your Grace!” Isidore said, “Let’s—”
Simeon dropped the ruby into the cracked box on the floor and straightened. “Would you prefer that we leave the rest for Honeydew to collect, Mother?”
“I would prefer never to have been born,” his mother said on a gasping breath. “You—you have humiliated me one too many times. One too many times!”
Isidore’s mouth fell open.
“Your father would have taken those ruffians out with a blow to the jaw, like any respectable Englishman,” the dowager said. But her voice cracked on a sob. “You—my son—with his feet—”
Isidore met Simeon’s eyes over his mother’s head.
“We’ll go outside now, Your Grace,” she said, lifting the remaining jewelry box from the dowager’s arms. “Follow me, if you please.”
They left Simeon there, the marble around his feet littered with tarnished jewels, in settings popular a half century ago. Isidore turned around once, but he was staring at the ground.
Gore House, Kensington
London seat of the Duke of Beaumont
March 3, 1784
The Duke of Villiers handed his cloak to Fowle, the Beaumonts’ butler, pausing at the news that Jemma was out, but that the duke was in.
He and Elijah had to talk.
It had been years since they had spoken properly, although his valet Finchley babbled of how Elijah saved Villiers’s life when he was in a fever. Since Villiers had no memory of that, he could hardly savor the reunion.
The truth was that Villiers was currently doing his best to seduce Elijah’s wife, and yet apparently he owed him gratitude for the said life-saving.
What was all that between old friends?
“I’ll announce myself,” he told Fowle. As he entered the library, he saw Elijah’s profile around the side of a high-backed chair. He seemed to have closed his eyes. Villiers loathed naps. But then Elijah spent his adult life saving the world, or at least the English parts of it, while he himself concentrated on frivolities like chess.
As always when he observed differences between his life and another man’s, he paused to consider whether he would prefer to order his world on Elijah’s model.
No. He had no wish to take up his seat in the House of Lords. In fact, he had a positive revulsion to the idea.
Villiers walked noiselessly across the wine-colored, flowered carpet. It was as glorious as one of his own coats. He rounded the chair.
Elijah was indeed asleep.
Or not asleep.
There was something odd about the immobility of his face, about the way his body was slumped in the corner of the chair.
“Duke,” Villiers said sharply, bending over. Could Elijah have fainted? His face was rather white. “Elijah!”
His eyelashes were dark against his face. He had been beautiful even back when they were both clumsy puppies and Elijah was the only person in the world that Villiers loved. Villiers himself had had a big nose, and uncontrollable hair that wouldn’t stay tied back properly, nor yet fit under a wig. Then Elijah had the white-blond curls of an angel, and the perfect profile of a young Gabriel.
Villiers reached out, touched Elijah’s shoulder.
Shook him again.
March 3, 1784
The last thing that the dowager said to Isidore before she left for her sister’s estate was that she wanted every jewel cleaned before they were returned to her.
“He gave them to me every time,” she said to Isidore. “I’m sure you know what I mean.”
“Then you shall. After all, you have married a Cosway. I never liked those necklaces, but they remind me of my husband.” She had the smaller box, the older one with silver hinges, beside her on the carriage seat. “These were my mother’s. I don’t mind if you keep some of the others; after all, you’re married to the duke. But these I shall keep and give to my sister’s children. You may inform my son so.”
“The duke is bathing,” Isidore said. “Could you please wait until he is able to bid you goodbye?”
“No. I shall stay at a neighbor’s and be at my sister’s estate by tomorrow at dusk. You can tell him where I’ve gone. He’s no son of mine, I’m convinced of that.”
“Oh, don’t be such a fool,” the dowager said, in her cracked, breathy way. “He’s my blood, God knows it to be so. And Godfrey as well. But Godfrey is off to Eton, and I’m tired of all this. I did my best!”
“I was a good wife, a proper wife. I never questioned the women. The jewels were given to me from guilt, you know. At least he felt that.” She looked at Isidore accusingly. “That was something.”