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Authors: Joan Smith

Tags: #Regency Romance

Wiles of a Stranger

 

WILES OF A STRANGER

 

Joan Smith

 

Chapter One

 

God created two perfect objects in this world: the rose, and the diamond. To the delicate rose, He gave thorns to protect it from man’s rough usage. The diamond is imbued with a hardness beyond that of any other element. Perhaps this was an effort on the part of the Almighty to protect it. If so, it was not completely successful. Its hardness has never protected it from loss or theft.

There is some peculiar fascination in these two objects, the rose and the diamond. Join them together and you have a thing of unrivaled beauty. It was generally agreed amongst connoisseurs that the rose diamond known as the Jaipur was one of the world’s finer objects.

Man had connived with nature to enhance the stone’s natural beauty. Its original forty carats had been hewn down to twenty-five to eliminate any imperfections. Its drop-like shape was transformed into the classic pear, used often for pendants. Brushing and polishing were carried out by an unknown artisan to bring forth the fire and brilliance contained within. It is one of life’s little ironies that this unparalleled thing should ultimately decorate the neck of the ugliest woman in England, the Dowager Duchess of Devontree.

Being one of the marvels of the gem world, it has of course a long and violent history, to which a new chapter has lately been added. I had some part in that last chapter, which began when my father, known in the trade as Diamond Dutch, received a letter from a Mr. Kirby asking him to go to Glanbury Park, outside of Chelmsford, to assess some pieces of jewelry and unmounted stones, with a view to possible purchase by the writer. As Mr. Kirby thoughtfully enclosed ten pounds, Papa did not question his bona fides further, but sat down immediately and wrote off to Mr. Beaudel, the guardian of the treasures in question, to set up an appointment. Mr. Beaudel was as anxious to do business as my father, and answered by return post, suggesting Friday of the same week, at nine in the morning, if that were convenient. It was not, as it meant driving to Chelmsford the day before and putting up at an inn, but my father was so eager he accepted.

“Come along with me for the drive, Mickey,” he invited. I have the misfortune to wear a Dutch name, Mieke, which of course has dwindled into the more easily spoken Mickey. Papa is from Holland. He came to England forty years ago and has never returned home since.

“It is spring—the drive should be pretty,” he went on. “There is some interesting Roman stonework in that area, and there is the river. Even better, you will see some Flemish influence in the brick buildings—ornamental brickwork, not the plain, raw stuff we get in London.” Any echo of his home was always drawn to my attention.

“I’d be happy to go. Beeton can watch the shop.”

To use the word “shop” displeased him. He declined to recognize that he had become a shopkeeper. He called himself, indeed the shop sign called him, a consultant in gems. However, he also bought and sold gems—kept a shop—so was what he most disdained—a shopkeeper.

“Beeton can make any appointments that come up,” he modified. “We shall be back within a couple of days. A day there, stay overnight, and go to Glanbury Park in the morning. We shall take a day for some sight-seeing afterwards. Farther along the Chelmer River, there is pretty countryside. You have never been up that way. It will be a holiday for you.”

“You are the one who needs a holiday,” I pointed out. It is hard to make a living in the gem trade when you work on your own. Customers are scarce and hard to please.

“We’ll hire a private carriage and team,” he said wildly, the ten pounds burning a hole in his pocket. “The Stag and Hounds is the place Beaudel suggests we put up at. I seem to recall the name. Your mama and I stayed there once.”

“It sounds marvelous.”

It turned out not so marvelous as we both anticipated. The sky drizzled a cold curtain of rain the whole way, impeding our view of the countryside and casting a pall over our spirits as well.

 “What do you know of Mr. Kirby?” I asked, to while away the time.

“I never heard of the man before. I wonder where he got my name.”

“Do you know anything about Beaudel?” I asked next, expecting the same brief answer, and already searching my mind for a fresh and livelier topic.

“Beaudel is the guardian of one of the finest jewel collections in the country,” he told me, which shocked me very much. I knew a little something of most of the famous jewel collections, but had never heard of Beaudel.

 “Which collection is that?” I asked.

“It hasn’t a name, actually. It is a newish lot brought back from India by Sir Giles Beaudel, who was a big government man there. Governor of Madras province, I think he was. Gem collecting was his hobby. He couldn’t have picked a better spot for it than India. The Himalayan ruby mines, the diamond beds of Godolphus, and the sapphires and emeralds from the foothills of the Himalayas. Wonderful gem country, India,” he mused, with that special smile his broad Dutch face wore when he spoke of his true love.

“I am delighted to be getting a look at this lot,” he went on. “I had not heard it was up for sale, but perhaps only a few pieces are being sold off. I wonder how Kirby got word of it. It is not discussed amongst the merchants in the city. If the really fine pieces are up for grabs, it is such gentlemen as the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Devonshire who would be bidding, and of course such commercial establishments as Love and Wirgmans.”

The aforementioned commercial establishment brought a scowl to Papa’s face. When he first came to England, he labored in their back rooms as a polisher of gems, a repairer of jewelry with loose prongs or claws, and performed such inferior chores for a very inferior wage. He managed to have a fight with the proprietor in short order. He usually fights with everyone he has anything to do with, except me. Many a deal has fallen through due to his temper. He thinks I am still a child who must be tolerated. Sometimes now he realizes I am no longer young, and then he feels guilty for not having found me a husband, so he is kind to me from pity.

“Is the collection mostly diamonds?” I asked, naming his favorite love. He tolerates the upstart ruby, emerald and sapphire, but has a special place in his heart for the diamond. His little smile said “diamond,” as surely as the green haze outside the carriage window said spring.

“The prize of the collection is said to be a rose diamond. It is called the Jaipur. Jaipur is the Pink City, you know. Pink is considered lucky in India. Jaipur is built largely of pink sandstone, and so the pink diamond is called the Jaipur. I have not had an opportunity to see many pink diamonds in my life. It was thought Catherine of Russia had a red one in her crown, but when it was removed for cleaning, it was seen to be an inferior white stone, with a red foil backing stuck in behind it. Kirby asked me to have a look at the Jaipur in particular. Strange I have never heard of Kirby, if he is rich enough to buy it.”

“Maybe he is one of the
nouveau riche
,” I suggested, envisioning a red-faced beer merchant, wanting a pink diamond for his wife.

“He is putting up at the Clarendon, so he is certainly not a poor man. He could be a nabob,” Papa said pensively. “An Indian merchant home from the east with his pockets jingling, and wanting to buy respectability.”

He could not set about buying it in a better fashion, in my father’s view. Any man who coveted diamonds could not be all bad, or totally common. If Kirby were indeed a nabob, he would be a good potential customer for us, and we were in need of such articles. We were not exactly poor. We did not have to live over our shop, but hired a decent set of rooms in Upper Grosvenor Square, where our neighbors were all genteel. The worry was to set aside something for the future, now that Papa was growing old.

Money had been spared to educate me as a lady, in Miss Phillips’ academy in London, as a day student. Our fortunes were to have been made by my older brother, Richard, who was an officer in the Army. We saved up to buy him his commission, but he was killed very soon after reaching the Peninsula. So we rubbed along as best we could, Papa keeping a shop and calling himself a consultant, and I keeping house and calling myself a lady. My father had his Beeton to stand behind the counter, and our home boasted one general female servant of all work.

“If Kirby is from India, that could be where he heard of Beaudel. You said his collection came from there, did you not, Papa?”

“Aye, so I did. That could be the answer. This Charles Beaudel I go to see is not the actual owner. He is only the guardian. The collection actually belongs to his nephew, a young fellow six or seven years old, the son of Sir Giles Beaudel. I daresay the guardian could sell some of it if he thought it for the best.”

“It is all a waste of time if the man is not in a position to sell.”

“I do not consider it a waste of time to have a chance to see the Jaipur. I would pay for the privilege. Kirby wants me to look over all the pieces, and advise him which are the best buys. A pity you cannot come with me to Glanbury Park, Mickey, but it is a business meeting. If the chap is a good, friendly sort, I shall hint you are interested, and he might invite you to have a look.”

“I would love to see the Jaipur. What would it be worth, in guineas?”

“I would have to examine it before saying. If it is without flaw, as rumor describes it, it would be worth a king’s ransom, whatever Beaudel cares to ask. I daresay our Prince would hold the populace to ransom for fifty or a hundred thousand pounds for it. By the time the Czar of Russia and King Louis got their bids in, the price might run to any absurd figure you can name.”

“It is odd we have not heard of Kirby, if he is in that league.”

“Fifty thousand is actually the top sum he mentioned. He hopes to snap it up before it becomes popularly known it is for sale. He seems a shrewd enough customer.”

“He cannot know much about diamonds or he would have come to examine it himself. Kirby could be an alias,” I mentioned.

“Aye, or he could be acting as agent for someone who wishes to remain anonymous. That is more likely,” he said, then lapsed into a reverie while the carriage jostled along the road.

Everyone is fatigued after a journey, even a short journey. We had dinner in my room, after which my father went belowstairs to the tavern for conversation and a few ales. That strain of the Dutch lingers in him, the love of conviviality and the love of ale. I knew before leaving home how it would be, and had come prepared with a guide book to keep me company.

My father was excited in the morning, babbling like a young girl over breakfast. I was happy to see him so cheerful.

I assured him I would entertain myself by a walking tour of the town. The parish church was a must, the old bridge that fords the joining of the two rivers another. My book told me the town had been a stopping place on the route from London to the East Anglian ports in Roman days. I also looked for Roman roads and ruins, with indifferent success.

I didn’t expect Papa home for lunch, but ate alone at the inn, braving the dining room on this occasion, as the establishment was a respectable one, catering to families. It was not a grand room at all, but the air was redolent of cooking bread and meat, to whet the appetite. The heavy sideboard was set with pewter plates and crusts, the chairs large and comfortable, covered in black leather. An hour passed pleasantly enough.

We had learned that Glanbury Park was five miles away. As Papa was not back for lunch, I did not look for him for another hour. He had lunched there, obviously. I toured the nearby shops, then returned to the lobby, planning to sit with the farmers’ wives and await him. By three, he was back.

“How did the visit go?” I asked eagerly, hoping he had controlled his temper, and returned with a commission in his pocket.

“We’ll discuss it abovestairs, Mickey,” he answered, with a repressive lowering of the brows that showed he was displeased. No sale, I said to myself.

“You disliked the stone? Was there something wrong with the Jaipur?” I asked, my voice low till we reached our rooms.

“I didn’t see it. Beaudel says it is kept in a vault somewhere—he was not advertising its whereabouts. What I examined, after a very long wait, was a few baubles not worth the trip. Not a diamond larger than five carats in the lot, and those that were larger than one carat were full of flaws. That is all he has for sale. I got a glimpse, no more, of the better pieces. Beaudel was so cautious he would not even let me pick up one rather fine star sapphire to carry it to the light of the window. An unmounted stone it was. The entire trip was a waste of time. I shall tell Mr. Kirby there is nothing he would be interested in.”

“You came all this way for nothing. What a shame!” I sympathized.

“I am disappointed. I don’t see why I could not have been allowed a look at that star sapphire. Sixteen rays it is said to have. I do not care for the way I was treated, as though I meant to slip it into my pocket. There was something fishy there. I can’t put my finger on it, but I disliked the atmosphere. He would select the stones I was to look at, holding the case tight against his chest. His wife had a sly air about her too.”

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