Stormy Persuasion Page 26

Catherine peered over Judith’s shoulder at the empty box. “Could the jewelry have spilled out in the trunk? Perhaps during the storm?”

“Actually, one trunk did slide off the pile that day. It got dented, but it was latched so it didn’t open.”

Judith dug into the trunk to check. It only took a moment. The jewel box had been filled to the brim because of the three large tiaras in it that took up so much room, and two tiered necklaces in hard settings that wouldn’t bend. Any one of those would be easy to spot among the clothes. But just to be absolutely sure, she took every single gown out of the trunk and even shook them. No jewelry fell to the floor.

Judith sighed. Catherine put an arm around her shoulder. “Don’t assume the worst yet,” she said encouragingly. “Ask your maid first. She might have moved your jewelry for some reason. Servants that old sometimes forget to tell you what they’ve done.”

Judith shook her head. “No, Nettie might be old but her mind is as sharp as a tack. I’ve been robbed. You might want to check your jewelry as well. I doubt I was singled out for this.”

Catherine gasped. “But I can’t afford to replace my jewelry! Go tell your uncle immediately. The ship will have to be searched to find the culprit and recover everything he took before we land. He can hide it, but it’s still on board somewhere.”

Judith nodded. At least she didn’t have to worry about smiling any more today.

Chapter Thirty-Two

Judith ran to the captain’s cabin, but James wasn’t there, so her father, who was playing chess with Andrássy, sent a sailor to fetch him. Jacqueline, red-faced with anger—that would be her first reaction—ran out immediately to check her cabin. Katey followed to check hers. Georgina quickly determined that her jewel box hadn’t been touched, but no one expected her jewelry to have been stolen because the captain’s cabin was never empty.

“Could this have happened at home before we sailed?” Anthony speculated.

“I don’t see how,” Judith said. “My trunks were packed and delivered to the ship the night before we sailed, and our servants handled that. And all of my trunks were locked and were still locked when I got to my cabin. I carried the key. And I didn’t actually unlock my trunks until later that day, after we were out to sea.”

“So you haven’t opened your jewel box since we’ve been aboard? Until today that is?” her father asked.

“No, there was no reason to.”

“What baubles did you bring along for the trip?”

“Too many. All the full sets mother just had made for me, diamonds, sapphires, emeralds—”

“Good God, she didn’t!”

“Yes, of course she did. And I packed the pearl tiara you gave me, the choker Jaime—”

“I’ll get you another tiara, poppet.”

“But I remember your giving me that one on my sixteenth birthday, and how pleased I was to have my first grown-up piece—”

Anthony hugged her tightly. “Baubles can be stolen, love, but memories can’t be taken away. You’ll always have that one.”

She gave him a teary smile but it didn’t make her feel any better.

Catherine rushed in, going straight to her brother, crying, “They took everything, Andrássy! Everything of value I had left. Do something!”

Andrássy appeared embarrassed by his stepsister’s overwrought state, but he put his arms around her to comfort her. “I’ll buy you some other trinkets.”

“You can’t replace my mother’s brooch. You have to find it!”

Jacqueline burst in next, snarling, “I’m going to gullet whoever did this!”

“So yours are gone, too?” Georgina asked.

“Every last bloody jewel. This is going to ruin our come-out. Without proper glitter, a ball gown is just another dress. I am so furious!”

“Of course you are, dearest,” Georgina said soothingly. “And you’ll wear my jewelry if it comes to that.”

But Jack wasn’t easily appeased, huffing, “No offense, Mama, but your baubles are old-fashioned.”

Georgina rolled her eyes. “Jewelry is never old-fashioned.”

Katey came in next with Boyd and, with a sigh, said, “Mine are gone, too.”

Anthony exclaimed, “Does no one lock their bloody door except me?”

Katey, the only one who had been robbed and did not appear upset about it, said, “Goodness, no, whatever for? It’s a private ship filled with family.”

“And a thief.”

“Well, yes, obviously.”

Andrássy, still trying to comfort Catherine, who was crying, asked, “Could it have been that stowaway?”

“No,” Katey replied. “My jewelry was all still accounted for after that incident.”

Judith dried her eyes with a handkerchief Georgina had given her and went over to Catherine. Judith felt bad for her. The rest of them could easily replace their losses. Judith and Katey had their own wealth, and Jack had eight uncles and two adoring parents who would fill her jewelry box to the brim again. But Catherine was dependent on Andrássy, who supported both of them with his inheritance. He was going to America to rid himself of his stepsister so Judith doubted he would willingly incur the expense of replacing all of Catherine’s stolen jewelry.

Judith slipped her arm around Catherine’s waist and took her aside, pointing out, “All isn’t lost yet. It’s an outrage that this happened, but our possessions are still on the ship somewhere, and no one is getting off it yet. And thanks to you, we found out much sooner than we might have, so there’s plenty of time to find what was taken before we dock.”

“You’re right, of course. I shouldn’t have let myself get so emotional. It’s just that the broach is all I have left from my mother. I’ll be devastated if I don’t get it back.”

“But you will, I promise.”

“What happened?” James asked as he walked into the room, but too many of them started to talk at once, so he bellowed, “George!”

Georgina tsked at his tone and asked, “What took you so long?”

“Artie had trouble tracking me down, since I was up in the crow’s nest. He said one of my crew has turned into a jewel thief?”

“I would guess the opposite, that our thief pretended to be a sailor. It was too neatly done, and too thorough. Aside from myself, all the women in this room were robbed, and none of them realized it until Judith found her jewel box empty a quarter of an hour ago, and they went to check theirs. That doesn’t smack of a sailor acting on impulse. That’s four different cabins snuck into, James.”

Judith saw her uncle’s gaze drift over to Catherine and then to Andrássy. Catherine must have noticed that James was looking at her because she leaned closer to Judith and whispered, “I didn’t do it, I swear! I know Andrássy told your family I was rebellious when I first arrived at his home. He might even have mentioned that I used to take things in anger to get back at my mother, but I was just a child then, for God’s sake, and I never took anything of value. I—I can’t imagine why he would even mention it, it was so long ago.”

Judith couldn’t either, for that matter, if Andrássy had actually told a member of her family that—unless he had done it to deliberately plant a seed of suspicion in his mind. For this? Good God, was Andrássy even who he said he was? They knew he was living off an inheritance only because he’d told them that. And James and Jack had both had doubts about him. Judith had staunchly defended him, but it wouldn’t be the first time she had misjudged someone’s character. Look how wrong she’d been about Nathan.

“It’s been determined that at least some of the thefts occurred within the last week,” Georgina was saying.

“Within the last four days, actually,” Katey clarified. “I’m sure that’s how long it’s been since I took my amethyst earrings out of my jewelry box to wear to dinner. They simply go too well with that lilac dress I wore the other night. You’ll have to replace them, Boyd.”

“No,” Boyd said, but quickly added with a chuckle, “I’d much rather find you the originals and I will.”

“Indeed,” James agreed. “All of the missing jewelry will be found before we dock. I want all of the baggage searched, and every inch of your cabins scrutinized. And because one tends to overlook things in familiar surroundings, I want a fresh set of eyes in every room, so you take Boyd and Katey’s room, Tony. Boyd will take Andrássy’s, and, Andrássy, you take Tony’s room. Katey, you take Catherine’s room. Jack and Judy, you switch with each other. Catherine, you can help my wife, since this is the largest of the cabins. Look into every nook and cranny, dear ones. The thief might be hiding his plunder where we’d least expect to find it.”

“Do we at least get to eat first?” Anthony asked, only half joking.

James stared at his brother but didn’t relent. “No meals until I have the culprit in my brig. If any of you missed breakfast, as my dear brother obviously did, stop by the galley before you begin. Once you finish the rooms, join me to help with the rest of the ship. If the first sweep doesn’t yield results, then we will do it again. Before day’s end, I’m bloody well going to know who dared to commit robbery on my ship.”

Chapter Thirty-Three

“I’m beginning to enjoy this.�� Jacqueline grinned as she lifted a small wooden carving of an elephant out of a crewman’s locker. “It feels like we’re on a treasure hunt, doesn’t it?”

Judith, who was next to her, sorting through another locker, said, “Don’t you mean scavenger hunt?”

“Considering what was stolen, I don’t believe I do. You know, all combined, that jewelry is probably worth a king’s ransom. Yours alone would be!”

Judith didn’t blush or try to make excuses for her mother’s extravagance. Everyone in the family knew how carried away Roslynn could get whenever she found something to spend her money on.

Judith had hoped to find Nathan working with James’s group in the crew’s quarters when she and Jack joined her uncle there after completing their search of each other’s cabin. But although James had divided the crew who weren’t actually manning the ship into two groups—one searching the cargo hold with Artie supervising, and the other assigned to the main deck and the battery deck with Henry in charge, James didn’t trust any of the sailors to search the crew’s quarters because he considered it the most likely hiding place for the jewels.

Working alone there, James hadn’t made much progress, so he was glad to have Jack and Judy’s help, and later Anthony’s, too, when he joined them, although Anthony was mostly distracting James with his suspicions about who had robbed them. Boyd was at the other end of this deck working his way toward them. They didn’t need to rip open the mattresses in the large bunkroom because the mattresses were thin enough that any jewelry that might have been sewn inside them could be detected by touch.

Boyd entered the crew’s quarters and spoke with James. A few moments later, James called the girls over to him. “Boyd just found this,” James said, holding up an amber ring. “He says it’s not Katey’s. Do either of you recognize it?”

Judith did. The amber ring went with her amber locket and bracelet. So she had brought her amber after all. It wasn’t nearly as expensive as her other sets, but still beautifully made, especially the oval locket, which was circled with tiny seed pearls.

Her father had come over to have a look at the ring and answered for her, “That’s Judy’s ring. Gave her the amber m’self. The other pieces weren’t with it?”

“No,” James said, and nodded to Boyd, who left immediately. James didn’t exactly look relieved by the discovery and told the girls, “I need to let George know she can stop keeping an eye on Catherine. I believe we’re done here for the time being, so you might as well come along.”

“You suspected her, too?” Jack asked, keeping up with him. “I did.”

Judith tsked, but James agreed, “Her—or her brother. Why do you think I sent you all to different cabins? It was to keep them out of theirs.”

“Well, don’t let her know you suspected her,” Judith said quickly as she followed behind them. “She felt bad enough when you only looked at her earlier.” Then, a little red-cheeked, she added, “Though I confess I did have a moment’s doubt about Andrássy.”

“Where this was found doesn’t implicate either of them,” James said.

“So a sailor got greedy?” Jack guessed.

“Or planned this well in advance,” James replied. “But we’ll find out soon enough. Boyd is having him brought to my cabin.”

Judith was frowning before they reached James’s cabin. If the ring hadn’t been found in the crew’s quarters or a specific locker, how did he know whom to bring in for questioning?

“George, really?” James complained the moment he entered his cabin to find her rifling through his desk, the papers on top of it all scattered.

She glanced up to give him a sweet smile. “I was running out of places to look, m’dear.”

“You can stop looking.”

Catherine, standing in front of the bank of windows, turned to ask him hopefully, “So am I exonerated?”

Judith was surprised that Catherine would actually ask that. So was James. Judith didn’t think she’d ever seen her uncle look discomfited, but at that moment he did. He merely said, “Of course.”

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