A diamond from the dust
Emily stood transfixed, her back pressed hard against the wall, as she watched in awe at the heavily rounged powdered ladies dancing gracefully with their handsome beaus. Their ball-gowns flicked and played on Emily’s body as they twirled closely by, just like the slight touch of a glove on the cheek to a gentleman being requested for a duel. The only moves Emily was allowed to make were to curtsy and offer champagne to guests in her task as a serving made to Sir Logan McBride. The evening ball was being held in honour of Sir Logan and Lady McBride to mark their silver wedding anniversary and no expense has been spared.
Celebrations carried on well past the midnight hour and Emily so wanted to yawn, but would have been instantly dismissed had she done so. She was closely observed and of so little significance she could be snuffed out as quickly as a candle. Eventually, to Emily’s delight, the revellers began to file out to their waiting carriages, to be waved away by Sir Logan and his wife. When all the guests departed, Emily noticed that the front doors had been left slightly ajar, so she sneaked out just before Sloan the Butler slammed them shut. Staff were absolutely not allowed to go through the front door, but it was a shorter way home for Emily than using the staff entrance at the rear of the large mansion. As she reached the very last step of the mansion’s entrance, she noticed something glistened in the dust in the drive, so she quickly picked up the object and popped it into a pocket before dashing behind a large privet hedge.
Out of sight of the house, she made her way through the spinney at the edge of the estate. The moon was full and the twigs of the leafless trees appeared to be clawing towards her, like a beggar’s fingers greedy for a coin. Emily arrived on the cobblestones of her street and walked past the ‘Miner’s Arms’ inn, stepping past, and sometimes over, the bodies of men and women in drunken stupor, whose only escape from drudgery was to fill their bellies with beer and gin on a Saturday night.
When safe inside her home she hurried upstairs and threw herself exhausted upon the bed. The bedding was damp, but only she could stay there till night’s dark hand had left her window on Sunday morning and she could go on her walk to church. After Sunday service Emily always called her father, mainly to check on his health. His lungs were rotten from years spent down the mine owned by Sir Logan. She entered his house. ’How are you feeling today, father?’ she enquired. ‘With lungs full of Sir Logan’s dust, lass, I am as close to death as if the coffin lay upon that kitchen table’, he replied, and coughed long and deep into the coal pitted palms of his hands. ‘Your own mother died of overwork in his employment with no cross to mark her passing. Before I go you should find yourself a husband; at 42 you should be wed, or you will end your days alone, dragging your weary feet to an empty house full of damp and crumbling walls with crumbling dreams’.
‘I was never the sweet cherry, father, more the pip spat into the gutter and never wanted’, she sighed long and dug her hands deep into her pockets. Quickly, as it bitten by a snake, she pulled out her right hander and threw an object of the table. ‘What on earth might that be?’, exclaimed her father, ‘where did you conjure up such a jewel?’
‘Last night I crept out of the front doors of the hall and scooped it up as I ran. I forgot all about it, and now I see it as the diamond dependent of Lady McBride. I have seen her wear it’, Emily explained. ‘I must return it, father, tis only right’.
‘If you take it back Sir Logan will dismiss you for using the front door and like as not cast you in prison for your honesty’, replied her father. He rubbed his stubbled chin then carried on. ‘Take the gem to Jolly Benson. He has a pawnbroker shop in Watton-on-Sea. You will find the shop on Wharf Road, but go to the back door and tell him that Edward Jacks sent you. He will cleave the diamond into smaller pieces and reset the stones, and although he will not be able to pay you for such a prize he will ‘set things straight for you‘, so to speak .
‘I will do as you say, father, but I will only use any money I received for good purposes as my faith permits’, Emily said piously, and her father nodded his approval. ‘Now hurry away’, he said. Emily ran the two miles to Watton-on-Sea and entered along the grimy dockside. She came across a sailor who was pushing a black man who was swathed in shackles down the gangplank of a large ship. She recognised the sailor and enquired, ‘what are you doing with that poor gentleman? Has he committed a crime that he should be treated so?’
‘He ain’t no gentleman and his crime is to be have been bought by your employer, Sir Logan McBride. And no pity for him, Missy, he is lucky, but this vessel has many more like him crammed tight in the hold, so tight that only their breath parts them. They face a long perilous journey bound for the far Americas and a life of hell’.
Emily felt very sorry for the poor man, but had to be rid of the diamond pendant so she hurried on and slipped quickly along the narrow rat infested streets. She reached the back door of Mr Jolly Benson and knocked.
‘Who calls on Jolly, and on the sabbath?’, came a voice from within .
‘Tis Emily – daughter of Edward Jacks ‘, Emily replied cautiously. A key turned in the lock and the door creaked open slightly to expose a pair of anxious eyes scanning Emily. ‘Enter and welcome, we don’t get many ladies visit these premises’. He ushered Emily in, then scanned the alley for strangers, as if afraid they might be seen.’ What brings you to Jolly?’, he asked in some excitement. Emily said nothing and just placed the pendant on the table.
‘Mr Jolly is overcome, overcome I say. I shall not perchance ask where it came, better for all concerned I say,’ he muttered, then mopped his brow before speaking again. ‘I cannot buy such a jewel from you, Emily, but if you need the money – let us say a shilling or two – then it is possible Jolly will oblige. Is that a bargain?’
Emily nodded and replied solemnly,’ Jolly will oblige’.
‘Now sit in that rocking chair and partake in port wine with me. I don’t get many ladies visit these premises and so this is a special occasion. They clinked glasses to seal the deal between them. ‘Now you must leave; the quicker I cleave this jewel the safer for us both’. He again scanned the alley before ushering Emily out.
Monday dawned and Emily wandered what would be in store for her of the home of Sir Logan. She did not have to wait long. All the staff were called to the main hall. Sir Logan was furious at the loss of the pendant and all and sundry were put in no doubt that if they knew anything, but said nothing, he would have them flogged. On the way home Emily called in on her father, but when she opened the door, no one coughed. The room was hushed and fear rippled through Emily’s body. She ran upstairs. He was dead, stone cold dead, in his bed and Emily knelt beside him, and wept at his passing.
In her sorrow she remembered the words, ‘Jolly will oblige’, and made her way to his shop for help. She wrapped on his door and, as before the door open slightly. ‘Who calls on Jolly?, Came the voice from within. ‘Tis Emily again, Mr Benson, I come for your help’, Emily pleaded. ‘Jolly reached his arm out and quickly pulled Emily into the house. ‘You do not say ‘daughter of Edward Jacks’, so am I to assume your father is no more?’, he asked. ‘That is unfortunately so, Jolly’, said Emily, bursting into tears. Jolly hugged her. ‘Sit there, my dear, and takes the wine. The warmth will take away some of the cold hurt you feel. I will, as promised, oblige and will take care of all arrangements for your father and hope it will ease your sad and sorry heart. You do understand that the proceedings will be proper, but not expensive, for it would bring trouble upon you for people to know how you obtained the lucre for such an occasion.’ Emily nodded; she fully understood the circumstances of such folly, and said her thank-yous and goodbyes to Jolly.
Soon the piles of fallen leaves in autumn turned from dreary brown to white upon the first snowfall of the winter. The advent of Christmas was nigh and that meant preparations would soon be in full swing for the annual Thanksgiving party to be held at the hall. All the dusting, cleaning and polishing of the silver had to be done ready for the celebration. Before very long the evening of the event was upon Emily, and she took up her usual position, silver salver in hand.
She looked to her left and, to her shock, there stood the black gentleman she seen before being pushed from the ship. He had been trained as a server just like her, to bow and proffer champagne. As she had not seen him before it was clear to Emily that he had been hidden away until today, no doubt justified as a sideshow for the titillation of the assembled dignitaries.
He was frozen with fear and looked as out of place as an owl caught in bright daylight. Emily waited until the end of the festivities and all the guests were tipsy. She then grabbed the man’s hand and led him hurriedly to the back of the tradesman’s entrance. Once outside she urged him to run with her and they ran as fast as they could, so vast that a whippet would have struggled to keep pace with them. They stood gasping at the door of Jolly Benson and, after first being alarmed, he hurried the pair in. ‘This is a fine kettle of fish you bring me’, and Jolly and he stared Emily, waiting for an explanation of this strange situation.
‘Can you help this man, Jolly?’ Can you oblige him? He needs to go home as he does not belong here’, pleaded Emily. ‘You don’t make life easier Jolly, do you, Emily? This is going to cost you a few shillings I can tell you. ‘This fellow has to return to Africa.’
Jolly pondered for a moment and then responded, ‘the ship, Eastern Wanderer, sails on the early morning tide. I know Captain Jessop well. I think if suitably rewarded he will take your friend.’
Jolly then dressed the African in an old coat and cap and led him to the quayside, and after some bartering Captain Jessop agreed a price to take the man home. Jolly then returned to Emily at his shop.
‘Tis done’, he told Emily. He then hesitated before speaking again’. ‘I am small, fat and not the prime beef on the butchers lamb, but I’m not without a shilling or two and I have a good heart beating in this chest’. Emily stopped in in the full flow of his oration.
‘Are you asking me to marry you, Jolly?, she asked. ‘Well if you’d like to put it that way, then yes I am’, replied.
‘Then Mr Jolly, I shall oblige- I shall oblige’
Jolly’s face lit up like the sun breaking through the clouds. ‘Then we are engaged – and here is your ring, he pronounced proudly , placing it delicately upon her finger .
In the middle of the ring was the tip of a diamond, the facets of which sparkled in the candlelight. ’Does it meet with your approval’, enquired jolly . ‘Well, it was good enough Lady McBride, I should think it is good enough for me, Mr Jolly’, Emily replied and hugged him close.
As they departed the church on the day of their wedding they walked to the simple cross the bore the name of Edward Jacks, and Emily mused and said to Jolly, ’ a place in heaven for my father, a place in my heart for Jolly Benson, and a place back home for the taken African. Its money well spent from a diamond in the dust I would say’, as she placed her bouquet on her father’s grave.’