we travel to late 15th Century London...
DISCOVERING THE DIAMOND
Barbara Gaskell Denvil
we travel to late 15th Century London...
DISCOVERING THE DIAMOND
Barbara Gaskell Denvil
I walked slowly, enjoying the soft splatters of rain on my back and the gentle music of its fall. It trickled from my hair to my shoulders and down from my shoulders to my breasts, and the little damp chill made me feel more alive. In the past I would not have been able to wear my hair loose. A married woman does not parade her hair in the sight of God. But now I do as I wish, and my hair is a curling drip of blonde ringlets. It feels free and I like it.
The path was deeply shadowed, which spun its own patterns from twisted tree trunks and sudden fences, to hay barns, ditches, and the flickers of a star through the clouds. Midnight. The hour for hauntings. I decided that was quite amusing.
By the morning I had arrived at the gates of London as they were unlocked, and slipped through behind the usual barge of monks off to earn their crusts, goose-boys shepherding their flat tar-footed flock, marketeers with their barrows of fresh fruit, and busy housewives, eager to be first in the shopping queues. The rain, never heavy, was no more than a silver mist and a pale sun oozed from between the cloud cover. I hurried east and took the back streets into the deeper shadows of the Tower. Here, ramshackle and smelling of depression, stood the old tenements but I travelled deeper and into Fish Street. It’s where I used to live.
The street could be noisy, almost bilious on a Friday morning when everyone with half an appetite came to buy whatever had been freshly caught. And then again in the evening as they piled into the tavern at the slope of the Bridge to puke back the ale that had accompanied it. But my husband had not been a noisy man. He was sitting now in the downstairs solar, hands clasped sadly over his chest, eyes closed, and no doubt contemplating his long lost wife, or perhaps just the discourses of Plato, the benefits of King Richard III over those of King Edward IV, or the alternative, or possibly what he would tell the maid to cook for dinner. It wasn’t Friday, I had seen to that.
He didn’t see me, poor Alfred. Eyes firmly shut against the intrusion of real life, he dozed or dreamed, or both. There were no noticeable improvements to our little house, nor any new comforts or furnishings. He wore, as he always had, a drab brown broadcloth doublet with a peplum to his knees over black woollen hose which wrinkled around the ankles. His shirt peeped at the neck, creased white ribbons barely tied. He wore no rings. His hair would have been in his eyes, had they been open. But his expression was benign, perhaps peaceful. It is possible that since losing his wife, life seemed to him more amenable. I couldn’t blame him. I had always been a rather tumble-down skirts-up sort of wife, wanting more than he could be bothered giving, and chattering about things he considered banal.
No. There was no possibility at all that my poor sweet husband had stolen my diamond.
I left the house, but first I scratched a kiss and the shape of a heart on the old beaten top of his little work-table. He would know that was me. He wouldn’t understand, but he’d smile.
From there I walked over the Bridge. It was alight with business and bawds, balderdash, dogs barking and donkeys braying. I pushed through, avoided the inevitable squash in the centre where those travelling north from Southwark refused to give way to those from central London travelling south, and hurried through London’s southern gate. No traitors’ heads were spiked over the gate today. The sunshine was warming and the clouds had blown.
Southwark plunged me back into shadows. Streets too narrow, tenements too close together, taverns and lodging inns built too tall so that the upper storeys bent over as though spying, and only the bishop’s palace looking worth the trouble of a visit. But it was the thieves’ dens I was intending to visit and naturally I knew just where they were.
The three better known, and the one less known were crowded into the alley that pretended to overlook the Thames, the alley as crooked as the shop-owners, and I started with Piping Pete’s. He was busy with a customer. Listening to every word, I also managed to sneak into the corner, and rummaged in the chests and boxes. Piping Pete was tall, skinny, cross-eyed and had a nose like a long tin whistle. But he didn’t have my diamond. I moved on to Barnacle Doggy. He didn’t have my diamond either. The largest shop of dealing and destruction was the Palace of Gaiety, which dealt in many things. It took a very long time to search that place, with nearly sixteen prostitutes sleeping there (the sixteenth was Ned, who didn’t really count) but not one single sparkle of diamond was either hidden or on show. I found a small ruby, which I was quite sure had been filched and couldn’t possibly belong to Dim-witted Dorothy, but it wasn’t my business and I left it there.
The nastiest little lair was in the cellar of a tavern, half dug by hand, and here lived Edward O’Cleaf. Thief, murderer, traitor and bastard, but strangely a man with an ingenious sense of humour. While he made his audience chuckle and roar, he stole everything they had on them.
He was out and I was exceedingly glad. I managed to creep in, and searched his hole from top to bottom. No diamonds. Ignoring the completely fraudulent letters entitling him to positions of legal authority and the few genuine letters proving various lord’s treachery and infidelity, I found no jewellery of any kind.
So I flitted through the Southwark taverns where a few of the less enterprising did private deals, and still found nothing. I wandered all the way back over the Bridge, along Little Thames Street, up past St. Paul’s, and into Goldsmith’s Row. Here the wealthy shop owners opened their shutters each morning, lifted them down and laid them out to make a counter facing the street. There they stood, beaming at the passing crowds, ready to sell, at the highest possible price, some of the most beautiful wares in Europe. It was the cleanest street in London and here no one ever dared empty their chamber pot into the gutters. The shelves beamed with glory. There were pewter, silver, and golden goblets. There were even some in the new Murano crystal, which few could afford. Gold shimmered from shelves, huge crafted bowls of silver, silk drapery with tassels held in silver bands, and necklaces, rings and broaches of patterned and encrusted gold.
Here was the assortment of shops which might sell such a valuable object as a diamond ring. Only if they considered it legal merchandise, but perhaps, without me dancing up a scene, the legality of such a sale would seem as irrefutable.
Customers were welcome. I entered every shop. Only one had a diamond for sale. Smaller and less elaborate than my stolen prize, it was a broach, pretty and almost as rare as my own, but not my own. My own beautiful ring was nowhere. I was disappointed. Without climbing into the bedchamber of every wealthy lady in the land, or pick the lock of every coffer, what else could I do to discover my diamond?
Disconsolate, I wandered back to Fish Street. Most shops were now closed for dinner time and most customers had scuttled off to cook and to eat. I crept back into the shadows to see if my husband was eating roast venison, bought with the wealth my diamond could have brought him. Instead, he was now sitting in the window seat, watching those few who still wandered the sun-reflecting cobbles. The night’s rain had not yet dried entirely, and the trickles between cobbles, the sheen on the thatches, the glow on the window mullions and the puddles on the doorsteps threw the pretty spangled sunshine back in its cheerful face. I peeped in the window but withdrew at once, for that was where Alfred sat.
He had been crying. I choked, wanting to cry myself, seeing him like that. He had streaks down each side of his face, and his eyes were pink and puffy. His hands were tightly knuckled against his stomach, bulging where my good cooking and his middle-age had spread it over his narrow belt. He hadn’t been the best husband in the world. I hadn’t been the best wife. Of course, he never knew about my disreputable past, but I had tried to make him happy. Perhaps sometimes I had succeeded. Had he really been crying over me? Perhaps it had simply been a headache or the first signs of diarrhoea after too many oysters. His brother might have punched him again, as he had a year ago when I marched over to brother Godwin’s larger house, and thrown a bowl of scalding cabbage broth in his face.
I had shouted, “How dare you punch my husband?”
And the stupid man had replied, “Because he irritates me and always thinks he’s right and I am wrong.” He had glared, pointing a long knotty finger right into my face. “I say we have no right to read the Holy Bible in a language we understand. Had God intended us to understand, He’d have written it in English. Instead He wrote in Latin. We should not meddle with the scriptures. My wicked brother speaks heresy. He’s lucky I only punched him. If you want to read that stuff, learn Latin, I yelled at Alfred. And you should learn common decency and common sense, he yelled back. So I hit him.”
That’s when I threw the soup. It had come off the boil by then and just left a few colourful scorch marks which improved his looks no end.
My diamond was huge. Nearly as large as my little finger nail, and as white as white can be. Sparkling, gleaming, spangled and stunning. It was square cut, and a tiny pearl gripped each corner, Gems I adored. It was set on a plain gold circlet which just fitted my finger, and had been given to me by my mother on her deathbed. It was very special to me for several reasons.
I was coming back from the wash-house when it was stolen, just about a month ago. I had a huge basket of damp shirts, sheets, shifts and other linens under my arm, and was about to hurry into my own doorway, ready to spread these in the kitchen to dry by the fire. Someone crept up behind me. I never saw him, but he hit me over the head with a hammer and I dropped my basket. All those things I’d spent ages boiling and scrubbing were strewn across the street, and I was on my knees. With my head screaming in pain. Probably my skull was cracked. Well, my head had never been my strongest part. It certainly hurt.
Then he twisted my arm up behind my back, grabbed the ring finger, and tried to pull the diamond off, the pea-brained fool. I always wore it, simply because it was too tight to move. So my attacker cut my finger right off, still wearing the ring.
Now I was thinking of something else. It gave me an idea.
Alfred’s brother Godwin lived in the next street. I ran around the corner, and I went to his house. Unlocked, easy enough to sneak in, up those old wooden stairs, and into each separate room. No diamonds hidden in his bedchamber, nothing in any coffer, nor cupboard, not under the bed and certainly not on view. He didn’t have a kitchen. There weren’t many places to look. So I went into the downstairs solar and watched the lump of a man snoring on the settle, mouth wide open, small squint eyes shut, both nose and mouth dribbling. So I searched the room.
And then I thought of the most obvious place, and I managed to untie his purse from his belt without waking him. I emptied it onto the floor. The tiny clank of coins rattled, and then out rolled my diamond ring. There it was, as shining and gorgeous as it had been when I wore it. My beloved ring. No mangled flesh, no blood, no skin or other remains of my finger. It had been cleaned and now it shone with pride. I picked it up and kissed it. My mother had given it to me and the man she had loved so much had given it to her. But I couldn’t put it on now. I turned, wondering what to do. Then I knew, and I walked over and poked it hard down into Godwin’s ugly gaping throat. I pushed it so far, he immediately woke and began to choke. He couldn’t see me, of course. Terrified, grabbing at his lips and his neck, he fell off the settle and tumbled, kicking, onto the floor amongst his own coins. I kept shoving. The ring inched further and further into his gullet. Then I got a twig out of his basket of kindling beside the empty hearth, and poked the ring even further down. He’d never cough it up now. He couldn’t even scream, just gurgle and gargle and thump his fists on the floorboards. His face swelled and turned purple. His hands flopped limp. The choking noises faded to a faint wheeze.
I scooped up his money and left him, walked back around the corner and into my husband’s quiet domain. Avoiding the solar, I rushed upstairs and piled the money under his little flat pillow. I wondered if he’d guess where it came from. Then he heard something. He came to the solar door, wondering, and peered up the stairs. But he couldn’t see me of course. I’d been dead for nearly a month and it was more than three weeks since he’d been to my funeral. His brother had come to my funeral too. I’d watched them both from the vaulted church ceiling above the altar, but not realising at the time that it was Godwin who had killed me. After slicing off my finger, he had slit my throat with the same knife, watched my agony for a few moments, and then left me to bleed over my clean washing.
Well, he had no throat himself now, it was stuffed full of diamond, pearls and gold. A shame really, that no one else would ever have the pleasure of wearing such a beautiful ring, but then, after all, my father had stolen it from someone else in the first place. I’m not sure who. But it didn’t matter anymore. The ring had moved on and now I was ready to do the same.
© Barbara Gaskell Denvil
Barbara Gaskell Denvil is a multi-award winning author of historical fiction, mystery, suspense and fantasy. Some of her books combine all of these and others only a few.
Having been born into a literary family where book shelves filled every room, she grew up assuming that writing would be her career. She began writing when she was extremely young and then went to work in the British Museum Library, with ancient folios and manuscripts. This cemented her love of both literature and history. Moving on to work in traditional publishing, scripting, reviewing, editing and publishing many articles and short stories.
Her books now alternate between fantasy and historical fiction, drama, mystery, adventure and romance, with a passion for medieval settings and historical accuracy.
Miss Gaskell Denvil's work has been traditionally published by Simon & Schuster, but she now favours self-publishing as it gives the huge satisfaction of individual control. And personal choice of genre and artistic inspiration.
find out more:
buy the books:
Follow the Tales…and Discover some Diamonds
3rd December Richard Tearle Diamonds
4th December Helen Hollick When ex-lovers have their uses
5th December Antoine Vanner Britannia’s Diamonds
6th December Nicky Galliers Diamond Windows
7th December Denise Barnes The Lost Diamond
8th December Elizabeth Jane Corbett A Soul Above Diamonds
9th December Lucienne Boyce Murder In Silks
10th December Julia Brannan The Curious Case of the Disappearing Diamond
11th December Pauline Barclay Sometimes It Happens
12th December Annie Whitehead Hearts, Home and a Precious Stone
13th December Inge H. Borg Edward, Con Extraordinaire
14th December J.G. Harlond The Empress Emerald
15th December Charlene Newcomb Diamonds in the Desert
16th December Susan Grossey A Suitable Gift
17th December Alison Morton Three Thousand Years to Saturnalia
18th December Nancy Jardine Illicit Familial Diamonds
19th December Elizabeth St John The Stolen Diamonds
20th December Barbara Gaskell Denvil Discovering the Diamond
21st December Anna Belfrage Diamonds in the Mud
22nd December Cryssa Bazos The Diamonds of Sint-Nicholaas
23rd December Diamonds … In Sound & Song