Diamond Tales: Discovering the Diamond by Barbara Gaskell Denvil

Today’s Tale
we travel to late 15th Century London…

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.

Wyngaerde’s “Panorama of London in 1543” 
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.

Wyngaerde’s “Panorama of London in 1543” – showing London Bridge

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

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
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.

Albert’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
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

About Barbara:

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.

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