Isabella didn’t like to think herself greedy or materialistic, but in the presence of such treasure, she understood how diamonds could make a man go a little bit mad. Or why women longed so desperately for one more piece, one more stone that was bigger, more finely cut than the last.
But these did not belong to her. Maybe they belonged to no one. But if anyone had a right to them, it was most definitely her mother. Isabella didn’t know how or why Hyacinth knew of their existence, but that didn’t seem to matter. Her mother had some sort of connection to the jewels, some sort of important knowledge. And if they belonged to anyone, they belonged to her.
Reluctantly, Isabella slid them back into the bag and tightened the gold cord so that none of the pieces could slip out. She knew what she had to do now. She knew exactly what she had to do.
But after that . . .
The torture would be in the waiting.
One year later
It had been two months since Hyacinth had last searched for the jewels, but Gareth was busy with some sort of estate matter, she had no good books to read, and, well, she just felt . . . itchy.
This happened from time to time. She’d go months without searching, weeks and days without even thinking about the diamonds, and then something would happen to remind her, to start her wondering, and there she was again—obsessed and frustrated, sneaking about the house so that no one would realize what she was
And the truth was, she was embarrassed. No matter how one looked at it, she was at least a little bit of a fool. Either the jewels were hidden away at Clair House and she hadn’t found them despite sixteen years of searching, or they weren’t hidden, and she’d been chasing a delusion. She couldn’t even imagine how she might explain this to her children, the servants surely thought her more than a little bit mad (they’d all caught her snooping about a washroom at one point or another), and Gareth—well, he was sweet and he humored her, but all the same, Hyacinth kept her activities to herself.
It was just better that way.
She’d chosen the nursery washroom for the afternoon’s search. Not for any particular reason, of course, but she’d finished her systematic search of all of the servants’ washrooms (always an endeavor that required some sensitivity and finesse), and before that she’d done her own washroom, and so the nursery seemed a good choice. After this she’d move to some of the second floor washrooms. George had moved into his own lodgings and if there really was a merciful God, Isabella would be married before long, and Hyacinth would not have to worry about anyone stumbling upon her as she poked, pried, and quite possibly pulled the tiles from the walls.
Hyacinth put her hands on her hips and took a deep breath as she surveyed the small room. She’d always liked it. The tiling was, or at least appeared to be, Turkish, and Hyacinth had to think that the Eastern peoples must enjoy far less sedate lives than the British, because the colors never failed to put her in a splendid mood—all royal blues and dreamy aquas, with streaks of yellow and orange.
Hyacinth had been to the south of Italy once, to the beach. It looked exactly like this room, sunny and sparkly in ways that the shores of England never seemed to achieve.
She squinted at the crown molding, looking for cracks or indentations, then dropped to her hands and knees for her usual inspection of the lower tiles.
She didn’t know what she hoped to find, what might have suddenly made an appearance that she hadn’t detected during the other, oh, at least a dozen previous searches.
But she had to keep going. She had to because she simply had no choice. There was something inside of her that just would not let go. And—
She stopped. Blinked. What was that?
Slowly, because she couldn’t quite believe that she’d found anything new—it had been over a decade since any of her searches had changed in any measurable manner—she leaned in.
It was small. It was faint. But it was definitely a crack, running from the floor to the top of the first tile, about six inches up. It wasn’t the sort of thing most people would notice, but Hyacinth wasn’t most people, and sad as it sounded, she had practically made a career of inspecting washrooms.
Frustrated with her inability to get really close, she shifted to her forearms and knees, then laid her cheek against the floor. She poked the tile to the right of the crack, then the left.
She stuck her fingernail at the edge of the crack, and dug it in. A tiny piece of plaster lodged under her nail.
A strange excitement began to build in her chest, squeezing, fluttering, rendering her almost incapable of drawing breath.
“Calm down,” she whispered, even those words coming out on a shake. She grabbed the little chisel she always took with her on her searches. “It’s probably nothing. It’s probably—”
She jammed the chisel in the crack, surely with more force than was necessary. And then she twisted. If one of the tiles was loose, the torque would cause it to press outward, and—
The tile quite literally popped out, landing on the floor with a clatter. Behind it was a small cavity.
Hyacinth squeezed her eyes shut. She’d waited her entire adult life for this moment, and now she couldn’t even bring herself to look. “Please,” she whispered. “Please.”
She reached in.
“Please. Oh, please.”
She touched something. Something soft. Like velvet.
With shaking fingers she drew it out. It was a little bag, held together with a soft, silky cord.
Hyacinth straightened slowly, crossing her legs so that she was sitting Indian style. She slid one finger inside the bag, widening the mouth, which had been pulled tight.
And then, with her right hand, she upended it, sliding the contents into her left.
Oh my G—
“Gareth!” she shrieked. “Gareth!”
“I did it,” she whispered, gazing down at the pool of jewels now spilling from her left hand. “I did it.”
And then she bellowed it.
“I DID IT!!!!”
She looped the necklace around her neck, still clutching the bracelet and ring in her hand.
“I did it, I did it, I did it.” She was singing it now, hopping up and down, almost dancing, almost crying. “I did it!”
“Hyacinth!” It was Gareth, out of breath from taking four flights of stairs two steps at a time.
She looked at him, and she could swear she could feel her eyes shining. “I did it!” She laughed, almost crazily. “I did it!”
For a moment he could do nothing but stare. His face grew slack, and Hyacinth thought he might actually lose his footing.
“I did it,” she said again. “I did it.”
And then he took her hand, took the ring, and slipped it onto her finger. “So you did,” he said, leaning down to kiss her knuckles. “So you did.”
Meanwhile, one floor down . . .
Isabella looked up from the book she was reading, glancing toward the ceiling. Her bedchamber was directly below the nursery, rather in line with the washroom, actually.
“I did it!”
Isabella turned back to her book.
And she smiled.
On the Way to the Wedding
In writing the 2nd epilogues, I have tried to answer readers’ lingering questions. In the case of On the Way to the Wedding, the question I heard the most post-publication was: What did Gregory and Lucy name all those babies? I’ll admit that even I don’t know how to craft a story revolving around the naming of nine infants (not all at once, thank heavens), so I decided to start the 2nd epilogue right where the first one ends—with Lucy giving birth for the last time. And because everyone—even the Bridgertons—must face hardship, I didn’t make it easy . . .
On the Way to the Wedding:
The 2nd Epilogue
21 June 1840
My dearest Gareth—
I hope this letter finds you well. I can hardly believe it has been almost a fortnight since I departed Clair House for Berkshire. Lucy is quite enormous; it seems impossible that she has not delivered yet. If I had grown so large with George or Isabella, I am sure I should have been complaining endlessly.
(I am also sure that you will not remind me of any complaints I may have uttered whilst in a similar state.)
Lucy does claim that this feels quite unlike her previous confinements. I find I must believe her. I saw her right before she gave birth to Ben, and I swear she was dancing a jig. I would confess to an intense jealousy, but it would be uncouth and unmaternal to admit to such an emotion, and as we know, I am Always Couth. And occasionally maternal.