Authors: Patricia Veryan
Tags: #Georgian Romance
THE LEAGUE OF JEWELLED MEN
A secret society of aristocrats, deeply resentful of the fact that Britain's throne was awarded to a German prince, the Elector of Hanover, whose son, King George II, now rules. Despising the "Hanoverian Succession," the League of Jewelled Men plans to overthrow the monarchy and institute a republic, with themselves as rulers. Because of the hideous penalty for high treason their identities are concealed even from each other, and they are known only by the jewels in the antique figurines carried by the members as identification. The ruling council consists of:
The "Squire," who is the leader of the society. A tall man of vaunting ambition, he is utterly ruthless. His symbol is of amethyst set with four large diamonds.
"Emerald," his lieutenant. A powerfully built individual, whose miniature is of pale green jade set with three emeralds.
"Sapphire," big, bumptious, and a grumbler. His figurine is of lapis-lazuli inset with six sapphires.
"Opal." Very large, aggressive, and opinionated. His token is of quartz set with two fire opals.
"Topaz." Short, with a husky voice and a slight build, identified by a figurine of golden crystal set with three topazes.
"Ruby." Tall and slim. Less violent than the others and more inclined to caution. His icon is pink jade set with five rubies.
A group of young men, each of whom has been victimized by the League, and who have banded together in opposition. They are led by.
Captain Gideon Rossiter, invalided out of the army in 1747 after having been critically wounded during the War of the Austrian Succession. His father, Sir Mark Rossiter, was the head of a great financial and shipbuilding empire. Determined to acquire his great estates, which were entailed and could not legally be purchased, the League deliberately ruined Sir Mark so that his properties would be seized and sold for debt After a successful battle to thwart the plot, Gideon and his friends formed their opposition group called "Rossiter's Preservers."
Lieutenant James Morris. Was in hospital with Gideon in the Low Countries. Returning home on the same ship, Morris' friendship with Gideon drew him into the struggle and he joined the fight, unaware that his father's cousin, the head of his house, is an influential member of the League.
August N. K. Falcon. A dashing and extremely wealthy young man about Town, despised because of his mixed blood, but feared because of a well-earned reputation as a dangerous duellist; fiery-tempered, proud, and very much a "loner." His sister's close friendship with Gideon Rossiter's bride originally drew him into the struggle against the League.
Horatio "Tio" Viscount Glendenning. Heir to the powerful and wealthy Earl of Bowers-Malden, and a former Jacobite. In an attempt to acquire Glendenning Abbey, the League plotted to destroy his family by proving that he had fought for Bonnie Prince Charlie in the Jacobite Uprising. After a desperate struggle, Horatio was able to elude the League's trap.
Gordon Chandler. Son and heir to Sir Brian Chandler of Lac Brillant, near Dover. Barely escaped me League's scheme to accuse his family of wrecking ships off the coast near their great Dover estate, and of conspiring with his younger brother, Quentin, a Jacobite, who fled to France after the Jacobite defeat at the Battle of Culloden.
Jonathan Armitage. Was a captain for the East India Company. After he unknowingly witnessed a meeting that could incriminate three members of the League, he was targetted for destruction. His ship was wrecked, he was blamed, and for two years was believed to have drowned. Although he recovered his health he is still struggling to prove his innocence.
Sir Owen Furlong. He joined the Preservers when his close friend, Horatio Glendenning, was endangered. The beautiful "Italian" lady Furlong loves is actually the sister of a famous Frenchman who has, without the sanction of his government, negotiated a treasonable personal Agreement with the League. Furlong was able to seize a copy of the Agreement, but to protect her brother, his beloved Maria very reluctantly shot and wounded Furlong and took the Agreement.
Peregrine Cranford. A former artillery officer who lost a foot at the Battle of Prestonpans. He was used by the League as bait to trap a friend who carried a copy of the Agreement that could destroy them. With the help of Falcon and Morris he rescued his friend, but the vital Agreement was stolen by the lady Sir Owen Furlong loved.
The November day had been chill and darkly depressing, but just before sunset pale fingers of sunlight slipped through the low-hanging clouds to brighten the land, if only briefly.
Many centuries had passed since any gleam of sunlight had penetrated to a certain large chamber situated in an area that once had housed the dungeons of a feudal lord. The air was dank and musty and much colder than that which toward midnight still rustled the trees above ground. The floor had been swept clean but there were few furnishings: an old and worm-eaten credenza that loomed dimly beside the ponderous iron-bound door, and an oak table surrounded by six chairs. The candle in the middle of the table did little to alleviate the pitchy darkness, its solitary flame creating a small oasis of light but failing to penetrate to the corners of the room and providing only a hint of massive stone walls mouldering with age.
The candle fluttered as men arrived and took their places. They were clad in dark cloaks, with hoods drawn close to throw a deeper shadow over masked faces. As though they were awed by their gloomy surroundings, or by thoughts of the unfortunates who had suffered here not so very long ago, there was no conversation while they gathered, the silence so intense that it seemed to beat against the eardrums.
A large individual stamped in, and muttered testily, "Zounds, but how glad I shall be when we can dispense with these trumpery dramatics! 'Tis like being buried alive to lurk about in this wretched hole! Hoods and masks, and secret meetings at dead of night and miles from anywhere! Children's games! Tchah!"
"But very necessary, Sapphire," drawled a man seated at the far end of the table. "I for one—" He checked, glancing around as the candle's flame danced.
The last man to enter had swung the heavy door shut and moved forward. "And this is ground we have gone over before, I believe," he said in a thin high-pitched voice sharpened by irritation. Coming to the position at the head of the table he rested a flat leather case on the vacant chair. The other men started to their feet, but with an imperative gesture that they remain seated, he himself continued to stand. "As a member of the League of Jewelled Men, you
, one trusts, aware of our aims, Sapphire?"
"If I am not, then you may curse me for a fool, Squire." The large individual grunted. "We are sworn to create a mightier England by putting an end to the monarchy for all time."
The man he had addressed as the "Squire" said with more than a touch of condescension, "And by what means do we accomplish this ambition?"
? By damned clever means to my way of thinking!" He held up his fat hand and counted off the points on his fingers. "We enrich our war chest by—ah, appropriating cargoes of great ships,
they sail, sending them off with dummy cargoes and arranging that they be, "lost at sea." We disgrace and discredit powerful men in government so as to undermine public morale. We place our own people in responsible positions at the Horse Guards, the Navy Board, and in government, and at military posts throughout the nation. We unleash our army of mercenaries to create riots and stir up discontent. We purchase the chain of estates we need for our bases, and if we can't purchase 'em from the owners legally"—he snorted with amusement—"then, by God, we remove the owners and acquire 'em anyway!"
There were some chuckles at this, and the Squire said silkily, "And when we have filled those properties with our troops and weapons—how then, Sapphire?"
"Why, we attack the vital installations close to our bases, of course! Seize power, and set up a republic ruled by the six of us, which—"
"Which constitutes High Treason!" The Squire leaned forward, his eyes glittering behind the mask and his voice scornful. "Have you the remotest notion of what happens to anyone so accused? Do you know the punishment for High Treason?"
Sapphire said resentfully, "Devil take it, I do! The prisoner is publicly hanged till near death, then cut down and revived, whereupon his limbs are hacked off, one at a time, after which he is disembowelled and beheaded, and his head stuck up on Temple Bar for—"
"Just so. A charming end. But before those horrors, the traitor is put to the question. You will recall the exploits of Guy Fawkes, a century ago?"
"Aye." Sapphire gave a bark of derisive laughter. "Tried to blow up the House of Lords. The Gunpowder Plot. And betrayed his friends when he was taken, like—"
The man he had addressed as the Squire interrupted in a near snarl, "He was a fine soldier, a gallant and courageous gentleman, and when arrested bore himself with honour and dignity, refusing to name his fellow conspirators. By the time he was forced to confess, he was so feeble from the torture that he could scarce stand or sign his name. They
that valiant spirit, but he yet spoke bravely as he faced his frightful death! Whatever you may think of his politics, could you better him for courage?"
"Er—hah!" blustered Sapphire, "I'll wager I'd give 'em as long a run for their money! If not longer!"
The individual sitting next to him, who appeared small and slight by comparison, said in a husky voice, "Would that I might be as sure. I doubt I'd make so gallant a showing."
The Squire nodded. "I know damned well I would not! Topaz is in the right of it. When the rack and the boot and white hot irons are brought to bear, the bravest of the brave can only withstand for a time. What
plan, would earn us just such treatment. And was only
of us taken, 'twould be but a matter of time"—his lip curled—"a short time with some, before we were all betrayed! If we use desperate means to keep our identities secret, 'tis so that no one here, whomever he may
, can truthfully swear he has ever actually
a fellow conspirator at this table! And I venture to guess that the identities of one or two of us would be a surprise to you, dear Sapphire." He straightened. "However, we are very close, my friends, to dispensing with the ah, 'trumpery dramatics.' To which end, let us get to our meeting."
Chairs were pushed back. The candlestick was taken up, and the small group of plotters followed the Squire to the rear of the room. The shift would have puzzled an onlooker, because it appeared to lead nowhere. The wall was of solid stone blocks, marked by lichen and mold but unbroken by door or windows. The Squire halted beside a slightly recessed alcove framing a waist-high marble bowl that in some far distant time had presumably been used to hold water. Save for the pervasive damp, the bowl was empty. It was a surprisingly beautiful object, clean and well maintained, the rim edged by a wide stone band of exquisitely carved flowers and intertwined leaves.
The Squire drew a long-barreled pistol and held it at the ready. "Proceed, gentlemen."
Each of the five held up a small figurine. The pieces resembled miniature gravestones and at first glance appeared identical. They were roughly three inches in height, an inch thick, the tops rounded, and on each figure a crudely carved primitive face, with a suggestion of squat legs below.
The Squire nodded. A tall, broad-shouldered individual stepped forward and leaning over the bowl set his miniature in the center of a carved flower. As he moved back another took his place and repeated the procedure. The flame of the candle awoke brilliant sparkles from the little figures and it could be seen now that each was subtly different. The first to be put in place was of pale green jade, having three fine emeralds inset about the face. The second was of lapis-lazuli, enhanced by six sapphires. Next came a figure of quartz, with two fire opals forming the eyes; the fourth was a golden crystal in which three topazes were arranged in a sort of necklace; and, lastly, a pink jade figure with five rabies spaced about the face. Each figurine was positioned carefully, two in the flowers, one amid the leaves of the carvings, one amongst the stems, and one fitting exactly into a shallow slot in the very center of the bowl. The Squire, who had trained his pistol on each man as the figures were set in place, handed the weapon to the individual who had held the emerald miniature. The pistol was then levelled at the Squire, who held up the sixth figurine, this being of amethyst set with four superb diamonds. He positioned it carefully in an acorn. There came at once a muted rattling and a soft thud, and the marble bowl jolted slightly, as though touched by an invisible hand.
Emerald lowered the pistol and returned it to the Squire.
Sapphire and Opal placed their hands at the right side of the alcove, and pushed. With a whisper of sound, the entire alcove swung back upon a Stygian gloom. The Ruling Council of the League of Jewelled Men retrieved their figurines from the bowl, and the man with the ruby figurine lifted the candle higher. He was tall, and although not as brawny as some of the others, moved with assured grace, but it was with obvious unease that he stepped into the inner room. The light revealed a credenza against one wall, and a chest opposite, both holding fine silver candelabra. In the center, a table on which there was a third candelabrum was surrounded by comfortable chairs. The table held also two uninvited guests that darted away with a scamper of claws and the whipping of long tails. The hand of the man holding the candle shook, and he drew back with a shudder of revulsion.