Tuesday, 9 November 2021

A fortune in jewels

Since their father remarried, he has not given Nell and Sophie any money.

This means they cannot escape life with their hostile young stepmother. Fortunately, their Aunt Sophie finds out. She takes them to London and summons the family lawyer to discuss their situation.

It turns out they will inherit a respectable sum each on their marriage or when they reach the age of 25 years. That is no help to Nell, who desperately needs funds NOW.

But then the lawyer informs them that their childless Aunt Eleanor has left them her collection of jewels. 

18th century orange foiled topaz triple drop pendant and girandole earrings

                                                        [c] S J Phillips

Mr Cheadle braced himself. ‘Now we will inspect Lady Eleanor’s bequest. As the only daughter of the Earl of Danestree, she possessed a most valuable collection of jewellery. Some items, indeed, should only be worn when security is very tight.’ He shook his head, adjusted his spectacles, which had slipped down his nose, and at last began to draw the interesting boxes out from the chest.

As he opened one velvet case after another, all three ladies exclaimed in admiration and delight at the sparkling jewels. There were several formal parures, including one of rubies and diamonds, and another of emeralds, together with an emerald tiara.

Aunt Sophie pressed a hand to her lips. ‘Oh, I remember her wearing that tiara and that superb emerald collar at Court.’

‘Superb?’ Sophie giggled. ‘It’s terribly ornate. Poor Aunt Eleanor. How uncomfortable. And so old-fashioned.’

‘Emeralds would not become you,’ announced Aunt Sophie, ‘but those pink topaz girandole earrings would be perfect.’

Sophie agreed. In addition to several more necklaces, there were a number of rings, bracelets and earrings, as well as a leather case full of rose-cut diamond brooches and pendants. These gems flashed with the fire of the purest stones, causing all three ladies to gasp in admiration.

‘Those were worn as decoration on the bodice of the old-style court gowns,’ observed Aunt Sophie, picking one up and turning it to admire the play of light on the jewels. ‘Completely out of fashion now, of course, but it is no great matter to have the gems reset in a modern style.’ She frowned. ‘I seem to remember my sister-in-law had a pair of diamond shoe buckles. What happened to – oh, there they are.’

She inspected them through her lorgnette. ‘Yes, these are the ones. It was rare to have real diamond buckles, was it not, Mr Cheadle?’  

 ‘Allow me to place everything in two piles, according to Lady Eleanor’s will,’ said Mr Cheadle firmly, ‘Then you young ladies may select what you wish to take for now and I can return the other items to the vault for safekeeping.’

            Watching the lawyer set out the various cases and boxes before her, Nell could scarcely breathe. This was her one chance to get money for her escape. She must select something of great value while not arousing suspicion.

It was difficult to keep her hands from trembling while she examined several sets of gems, eventually picking out a pretty necklace of pink rock crystal and seed pearls, with matching girandole earrings. Aunt Sophie nodded approvingly. Nell fiddled with brooches and earrings, examining them one after the other slowly, until Aunt Sophie turned her attention back to Sophie, who was hesitating between an aquamarine pendant and a delicate necklace of diamonds and pearls. While they were deciding, Nell added a pair of pearl bracelets and one of the massive diamond brooches to her selection.

            Her aunt tut-tutted. ‘That diamond piece is far too big to suit modern dress.’  

            ‘If I decide on my almond green gown, I’d want diamonds, not coloured stones,’ said Nell, willing her voice to sound calm. ‘This brooch can be unhooked, and turn into two smaller ones, see.’ She separated it to demonstrate. ‘Exactly what I need for the occasion.’ She gazed coolly from her aunt to Mr Cheadle. He bowed his head politely, though his eyes were anguished. That told her the diamonds were truly valuable.

            Sophie, bless her, drew the attention away by asking with a laugh, ‘Nell, perhaps you’d like to borrow my diamond buckles to complete your outfit.’

Later, as she inspected her new treasures, Nell gave silent thanks to Aunt Eleanor. Her heart soared. A couple of those diamonds would surely sell for enough to pay for her journey to France, and allow her some much needed money in her pocket. It will transform my life. She drew out Joachim’s little disc and kissed it. Not much longer now, my darling.

From   'An Almost Perfect Gentleman'

18th century rose cut diamond brooch, On sale from Gallerease, Netherlands

Note : the jewellery shown is for sale at prices that would still make Nell very wealthy today.

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