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Authors: Patricia Veryan

Cherished Enemy

 

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For Sue Holtz—a friend worth the having

 

… He was cherishing an enemy in disguise …

—Joseph Priestley 1733–1804

Author's Note

The novels in The Golden Chronicles series deal with the treasure gathered, too late, by Prince Charles Stuart to finance his ailing Jacobite Uprising, circa 1745–46.

To the best of my knowledge, what actually became of that treasure is unknown to this day.

These books therefore present one writer's purely fanciful picture of a possible disposition, and are not intended to be interpreted as historical fact.

I

SUSPICIONS

1

Autumn 1746

All Paris knew that the Comtesse Maria de Fontblanque was desolate. A large, plump, and wealthy widow, the comtesse was of English birth, which was regrettable. Despite this flaw, however, she was extremely well-liked, for her heart was warm, she was generous to a fault, and at the least excuse would give one of her famous parties. Therefore, when she sighfully informed her friends that the sister and niece who had been visiting her must soon return to England, the élite of Paris commiserated with her desolation. When she added that she would give an impromptu farewell ball in honour of her departing relatives, the élite of Paris perked up its collective ears, and the modistes and mantua-makers enjoyed a profitable, if frenzied, flurry of business.

The ball took place on Friday, the second of September, at the Hôtel de Fontblanque, and everybody who was anybody was there. So, too, were several who were nobodies. Among the latter was an English captain. He was young and of no great height, but his figure was good; his dress regimentals fitted snugly across his broad shoulders, and his knee breeches hugged a pair of muscular legs. As for his looks, they were indifferent: his powdered hair was thick but rather severely tied back, framing regular features notable only for a pair of frigid blue eyes and a rather small mouth above the stubborn chin. Not one, it would be supposed, who could have stolen away the younger guest of honour, but so it was. Captain Jacob Holt had secured the hand of Miss Rosamond Albritton in the minuet and he had evidently managed to please the enchanting beauty, for Miss Albritton's dark blue eyes gleamed with laughter, and as the last measure was played her vivid full-lipped mouth curved to a merry smile. She sank into a curtsy amid the billowing pink satins of her great hooped skirts, the gallant captain bowed, the music stopped, and he led her from the floor.

“Two whole years?” she said in a low, pleasant voice. “No, I think you hoax me, sir. Surely, you must have been granted
one
day's leave in all that while? Why, 'twould be barbarous else!”

“Barbarous indeed.” He sighed mournfully. “So it is I beg you will allow me to take you in to supper. I sense a kindness for a humble soldier, ma'am. A few moments of conversation with so lovely a lady will more than recompense for my dedicated service to my country.”

His eyes teased her. A smile hovered about his lips, and she was won to a chuckle of mirth. “How can I refuse such blandishments? And indeed, I will not deny a deep admiration for military gentlemen. My papa, you know, is a colonel, though no longer on active service.”

“Is he! And I understand you are betrothed to some lucky officer.” The captain felt Miss Albritton's hand tighten on his arm, and looking up, saw distress in the delicate face, but before he could comment they had reached the edge of the dance floor and were at once surrounded. Tall young gallants, glorious in velvets and brocades, with dashingly applied patches and luxuriant wigs, waged rapturous over Miss Albritton's exquisitely clear and light complexion, her petite but shapely figure, happy nature, and pretty manners, and sighed over the abundant tresses that, when not powdered, shone like gold in the sunshine; middle-aged gentlemen who considered themselves proof against beauty vowed themselves slaves to her daintiness and haunted by her lilting little laugh; elderly aristocrats, jewels flashing from frail hands and the assurance of wealth resting upon them like invisible mantles, declared themselves
ennuyés
without the sparkling presence and merry good humour of the English belle and beseeched her to rescue them. All begged the honour of escorting Mademoiselle Albritton down to supper. And to all she returned the same answer. She was honoured, she would be delighted, but—with the dimpling smile that enchanted despite the disappointment—she had already accepted the offer of Captain Holt.

They crowded, protesting, about her. Others pressed in. Ladies with tiny waists, their rich skirts swooping over the great flattened panniers that were the latest fashion, their high powdered and decorated coiffures works of art, fluttered dainty fans, and expressed fond regrets that their dear Rosamond must so soon leave Paris. An intimidating duchess planned to be in England in December and insisted
la très jolie
Mademoiselle Albritton must visit her London mansion. An admiral, resplendent in his uniform, extended an invitation that Mademoiselle and her so charming aunt honour his country château with their presence.

Captain Holt, following politely in the wake of all the adulation, watched and waited. Not until he had guided her down the graceful sweep of the stairs to the supper room and installed her at a small side-table could he hope to have a few moments of her undivided attention. When he returned from the buffet carrying two laden plates he found his lady surrounded, and was obliged to be decidedly firm in dismissing her admirers.

“Phew!” he exclaimed, sitting down at last. “I feared they would kidnap you away from me, ma'am.” Miss Albritton's azure eyes sparkled at him over her fan, and the captain informed her that the lobster puffs were said to be superb. “I hope they are,” he went on, “so that you may be impressed with my cleverness in having chose them, and thus forgive me.” The lady closed her fan and arched her shapely brows. He shrugged. “I think I may have been gauche just now. Perhaps your betrothal is—er, not official?”

Again sadness caused her smile to fade and banished the mischievous merriment from her eyes. She lowered the cheese tart she had been about to sample and sat staring at it. “My betrothal,” she said quietly, “was terminated by death before it was formally announced.”

Aghast, he exclaimed, “Oh—good God! I'd no least notion! Dear ma'am, I do beg your pardon! I would never have mentioned—”

She looked up at him. “No, pray do not be put about. Hal was killed five months ago. One does not forget, but the sharpness eases.”

He said thoughtfully, “April? You said—killed. He was at Culloden, ma'am?”

“Yes.” Her so admired little chin set. “That
wretched
Rebellion! How Prince Charles could have been so foolish as to imagine he could overthrow the government—how he could have caused so much death and suffering, is past belief!” Her fingers tightened and the cheese tart disintegrated.

Blushing, she gathered the pieces, and was grateful when the captain did not add to her embarrassment by assisting her, and seemed in fact not to have noticed the small accident, gingerly concentrating on a lobster puff while pointing out fair-mindedly that the Jacobites had suffered also. “Those who escaped Culloden still are hunted down and destroyed like animals. Some, after months of flight and really horrible privations, are captured at the very moment of taking ship to France and safety, and dragged back to face a firing squad. Or—worse.”

“They deserve it, however dreadful it may be,” she said fiercely. “They brought it upon themselves!”

A young gentleman seated with a friend at a nearby table turned and looked at her. She remembered him from the reception line, where she had judged him to be the second most handsome man at the ball. No taller than the captain, he was of more slender build and moved with catlike grace despite the fact that he had a slight limp. An Englishman. Robert something or other. Tonight he wore powder, of course, but by his colouring she thought he must be fair-haired, and he had a pair of remarkably dark grey eyes. Those eyes were cold now; his mouth, which she had thought rather grim for such a young man, looked grimmer than ever, and one eyebrow arched in a scornful manner that at once irritated her. Ignoring him, she returned her attention to her companion.

“I expect that is a harsh statement for a lady to make,” she admitted, “but … If you knew how I
despise
them! Harold was the finest, the most gentle boy. I shall never—forgive—” Her voice broke. She looked away, her lips trembling, and began to concentrate very hard on gathering a lurking crumb of the shattered tart.

One might suppose the captain would have abandoned so distressing a topic, but he apparently lacked such sensibility. “Of course you cannot forgive them,” he agreed supportively. “Your grief does you honour, ma'am. Had you known the gentleman—Harold, you said?—for very long?”

“Lieutenant Harold Singleton. Yes, I had known him all my life. His family's estate marches with ours, you see. In fact, Harold is—was—a cousin several times removed.” She made a brave attempt at a smile. “I never can get those things sorted out. His mama was second cousin to mine. The two families have always been very close. My brother and Harold were bosom bows from the cradle…” She sighed. “Charles, in fact, had hoped to ask for the hand of Miss Deborah Singleton, Harold's sister. Now, of course, he cannot approach her mother in such a matter.”

“How sad for him, poor fellow. But the mourning year will soon be done. I believe someone told me another English lady had lately visited the comtesse. A young lady wearing blacks. Miss Singleton, perhaps?”

“Yes. How astute of you, Captain. My cousin, Deborah, came to Tante Maria in June. She and Harold were absolutely devoted. When we received word of his death, Deborah became so lost in grief that her mama feared for her health and sent her here to—to get her mind off things. England, you know, with so much military about and all the talk of the fugitives … was very hard for her.”

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