Rosa slammed her fist on the coffee table, causing the
solicitor to look up from the paperwork.
‘It was your aunt’s wish,’ he said. His calmness irritated
Rosa Mitchell looked at the family heirloom with jealousy eating into her soul. It had occupied the same position on the bookcase for as long as she could remember. From now on every time she saw it she would think of the treacherous aunt who bequeathed it to her brother instead of her niece. Worse, to a brother who died two weeks before Aunt Maud. Now the heirloom was to remain in the hands of the wife who had absolutely no right to such a beautiful thing.
The heirloom was a delicate piece of glassware. Not the everyday run-of-the-mill sort of glass but a fine illustration of millefiore glass modelled into a giant paperweight. Not an ordinary run of the mill paperweight either, it was shaped like a pot with a long neck and a stopper in it.
Rosa thought it
looked more like a bottle, except there was no inside to it. She had coveted
the ornament since childhood, when she would sit for hours attempting to trace
each ‘flower’ with her finger, except the flowers were inside the glass and
couldn’t be touched. Even then she marvelled at the exquisiteness of the design.
The piece had been in the family since goodness knows when, passing from one generation to another until it ended up in Aunt Maud’s possession. Her aunt had promised that
Rosa would one day be the happy owner. Bitterness welled
up inside her at the thought of that broken promise.
Looking round the room,
Rosa caught the smirk on Rowena’s face as she
sat with her two sons on the window seat. She was a highfalutin woman in a
purple suit and veiled hat. The boys were dressed in smart blue suits with black
bands on the sleeves. It was her husband who inherited everything, including the
item that should have gone to Rosa, and he himself
was dead. It was easy to visualise the valued item being confined to a back shelf
never to be seen again.
Not one member of
Rosa’s immediate family was present for the reading of
the will. Her mother and two sisters expected nothing from their deceased
relative. Rosa wondered what had happened in
the family to make Aunt Maud leave everything to her only surviving brother,
with the proviso that his family
would benefit if anything happened to him.
Reg Mitchell was eighty years of age when he died so it stood to reason that, had he lived, he wouldn’t have derived much enjoyment from owning the family heirloom. Still,
Rosa supposed that as Aunt Maud was older than Uncle Reg
by eight years she would have expected him to last a bit longer. She wouldn’t
expect him to die a fortnight before her, and with her suffering from
Alzheimer’s she wasn’t in a position to change anything.
The room in which they sat was what
Rosa thought of as the Brown
Room. It even had a brown smell, at least that’s how she thought of it. It had
been a while since she was last here and she hadn’t noticed before how much the
leather reeked. That and mothballs and old age! She termed it the Brown room because
all furnishings were that colour, the leather three-piece suite was dark brown,
cushions and drapes a shade lighter but still brown, even the cream flecks in
the carpet did nothing to hide the basic shade of brown. Other rooms in the house were nicely decorated
but this was Aunt Maud’s favourite, and dull, room. How she had spent her days
in it was beyond Rosa’s comprehension.
At the end of the reading the solicitor rose to leave. Wishing the family members well and promising assistance with any query, he accepted Rowena’s offer to escort him to the door.
Turning from the sink
Rosa spotted her young cousins, twins Simon and Bob,
lounging against the door. How long had they been there? For some strange
reason Rosa felt guilty, as if she herself had
no right to be there. Indeed, perhaps she shouldn’t. Without a word the boys
crossed the room and entered the parlour. Rosa
watched them go, wondering if they would mind if she followed. Quickly she
rebuked herself for the unjustifiable thought, reminding herself that they were
just fifteen year old boys who were unlikely to hold high and mighty ideas,
unless of course they’d been drilled by Mama.
Without saying a word, Bob ambled over to the window, stood looking out at the rain drenched lawn. His dark hair flopping on his forehead made him seem quite unkempt whereas Simon’s curls gave him a neat appearance. As Simon collapsed on the couch like a workman at the end of a hard day,
from one to the other. She was thankful they were not identical twins; if they
were both as sullen as Bob she would be hard pressed to know how to
communicate. Fortunately Simon was a forthright lad, he made up for his
brother’s reserved manner.
‘Was you very disappointed not to get the paperweight,’ Simon asked, looking directly at
‘Were you disappointed,’ she quickly corrected, then went on to ask if her annoyance was evident.
Simon slung one leg over the arm of the couch. ‘Not half,’ he chuckled. ‘You went red in the face. I thought you were having a fit. Even Mom jumped when you fisted the coffee table.’
‘Why don’t you tell her what we overheard?’ Bob uttered the words from his position by the window.
‘Nah!’ returned Simon. ‘It would get our Mom in trouble.’
For the first time Bob turned to look at his brother. ‘She wouldn’t be in trouble. She didn’t do anything wrong. It wasn’t her fault Dad died before he could inherit the family heirloom.’
‘No, but she knew about the blackmail.’
Bob had lowered his voice but
Rosa heard it quite clearly. She was
horrified. Blackmail? What on earth did he mean? Had something been going on in
the family that she didn’t know about? What sort of yarns had their mother been
spinning? She always was one for
fabricating the truth. It wasn’t the first time she’d come out with a pack of
lies but to talk such rubbish to her sons was unacceptable.
Ringing her hands together she rose and crossed to the fireplace. Bob’s words were jingling around in her head. Blackmail! Normally she was reluctant to discuss family matters with the young lads, but the word blackmail had driven discretion right out of her mind. ‘What are you talking about?’ she asked, part of her already rebelling against what she might hear.
Simon’s voice penetrated
Rosa’s thoughts. ‘Okay then. Did
you know Uncle Sergio was a jewel thief?
‘No! But Mom told us she knew Dad helped Uncle Sergio get out of trouble over some stolen jewels.
With a deep frown on his face, Bob interrupted his brother. ‘You’d better shut up, bro. We only know half the story so it’s not fair to go on. You’re only upsetting
Rosa by keeping on.’ Turning to his cousin, he said, ‘Why
don’t you talk to Mom about it?
Rosa started fiddling with the objects on the shelf, a
small tabby cat, an old pill box, a small cut glass bowl, treasures from long
ago. Carefully she rearranged the sympathy cards. Talking to Rowena wasn’t
something she fancied doing, especially now. Rowena wasn’t the easiest person
to talk to. She had such a mocking nature; there seemed to be something wrong
with everything she came across, and nobody ever seemed at ease in her company.
But it looked as if she had to do it; blackmail wasn’t something she could
sweep under the carpet.
The boys had gone out for a walk and to buy the evening paper and it was a good hour before Rowena appeared. Since saying goodbye to the solicitor she had gone upstairs to change into something more comfortable, a short dress in soft lemon cotton.
Rosa felt suddenly overdressed in her black two-piece. She
waited until Rowena had closed the door before speaking. However, Rowena beat
her to it. ‘I guess it’s time we sorted out the mire this family has been
wallowing in,’ she said.
The expression disturbed
Rosa yet she felt unable to chastise
the younger woman who had become her aunt-by-marriage. ‘Perhaps we could go into the kitchen,’ she
said. ‘It seems more comfortable there
than in these big rooms. Warmer, too.’
Settling herself in the rocking chair that was once the favourite of Sergio Bellini,
Rosa waited. She felt very warm, as if every pore was
oozing perspiration. Even her blonde hair felt damp. The heavy funeral clothes
felt even more uncomfortable and she wished she had thought to bring a change.
It hadn’t been a good idea to see the solicitor straight after church but he
said it was better to get it over with straight away. At least he’d had the
sense to give them a few hours grace.
Reaching across to the low coffee table she picked up a framed photograph of Aunt Maud and Uncle Sergio. It was taken when they were on honeymoon. A long time ago, she thought, and both now dead.
Although Sergio Bellini had been dead for a number of years her memory of him was quite clear. A swarthy Italian and jeweller by trade, he was Aunt Maud’s second husband. Her first had lasted just two years. When Sergio died, the family joked that she was ‘seeing them off’ although at the time
didn’t understand what they meant. Her uncle-by-marriage was a good looking but
extremely angry man. Rosa
remembered being quite terrified of him. Not that they met very often since his
profession frequently took him overseas. Only
later did she learn that the childless Maud Bellini had survived the long
absences by engaging in promiscuity.
When Rowena came into the kitchen she went straight to the sink as though she was going to wash up. Instead she turned away and suggested they partake of some coffee. ‘Or would you prefer something stronger?’
With cups of steaming coffee in place on the table, the two women pulled their chairs either side so that they faced each other. Although
it seemed a bit official she felt it advisable to look Rowena directly in the
face. That way she could tell if she was lying. ‘Right,’ she said. ‘Let’s sort
this out. What did the boys mean by someone being blackmailed’?’
Rowena had the grace to look guilty but she didn’t let it affect what she had to say. ‘It’s true. My dear husband blackmailed Maud. Oh not for money, he did it by threat.’
‘During one of his visits to the Far East Sergio stole a very valuable collection of jewels from one of the richest families in the country. In his capacity as jeweller and with Reg’s knowledge of glass he was able to hide the jewels beneath the millefiore in the paperweight.’
Rowena smiled. ‘Not at all,’ she said. ‘I’ve known about it for some years. When Reg heard that his sister had promised the paperweight to you he threatened to expose Maud’s infidelity and tarnish the memory of her husband if she didn’t change her will.’
‘Aunt Maud knew about the robbery?’
‘Oh yes, she knew. She also knew where the jewels were hidden.’
‘So if she hadn’t changed her will, the jewels would have come to me?’
‘And I would never have known?’
‘Oh my dear, I would have told you sooner or later. The old lady dying so near to dear Reg’s demise brought everything to a head, so to speak.’
Her words seemed a bit harsh yet
Rosa couldn’t fault Rowena’s logical
approach. Her mind in turmoil she gazed across at the window. It had stopped raining
and there was a hint of sunshine. The twins were outside, Ben watching as Simon
jumped to grasp a tree branch. She hoped he wouldn’t injure himself. Not today,
when there was so much going on. ‘When did you find out?’ she asked.
‘Several years ago,’ Rowena said. I heard the men talking one day and eavesdropped. I got the full story afterwards. That’s what made me stay so long in the marriage. I knew that one day I could be quite wealthy.’
This was another shock for
Rosa and she wondered how much more she
could take. ‘So what do we do now? We
must inform the police. Oh dear, I can’t take it all in.’
Rowena eased out of her chair and walked round the table. Leaning over
shoulder she spoke so softly Rosa couldn’t be
sure she was hearing right. ‘Rosa, my dear, just think how rich we can be if we
keep this to ourselves. I know just the man to remove those jewels from the
A year later, on a hotel balcony overlooking the
of Naples Rosa admired the view. The warmth of the sun on her bare
shoulders felt so good she wondered why she had never visited Italy before. The
water shimmered in the swimming pool, the colour so blue Rosa
couldn’t decide whether it was due to the cloudless blue sky or the painted
surrounds. From where she stood she could see Vesuvius on the far side of the
bay. One day she would take a trip to see it close up but in the meantime there
were other matters to see to.
A year had passed since her aunt’s funeral and there would soon be another one. This time, though, it might be more appropriate not to attend.
Putting her sunglasses on the wrought-iron table, she sat down and pulled the package towards her. She had been here for a week now and only today had the package arrived. The anxious wait had made her nervous. She couldn’t help feeling that something had gone wrong and the parcel had gone astray. It arrived forty minutes ago but the porter had only just brought it to her room. He was rewarded with a worthwhile tip.
She couldn’t wait another minute to see her beloved paperweight and inspect it for signs of damage. It was too bad Rowena wasn’t there to share the moment with her, after all if it hadn’t been for her aunt-by-marriage she wouldn’t be indulging in all this luxury. It really was too bad that the taxi had put on speed just as Rowena was crossing the road. On a pedestrian crossing, as well.