The following short story is entirely a work of fiction, places and characters bear no relation to any person living or dead and any similarity is entirely coincidental.
Some years ago now my mother died, she lived two-hundred miles away in the South-west of England, my Father had dies some fifteen years earlier and I was an only child. It took some week or so to sort out the house and organise everything. A friend made the journey with me and helped me to search the house for money and other valuables before the house clearance company came to remove the furniture; we found money everywhere. There were coats with pockets stuffed with cash, four cash strong-boxes full, a writing case with no stationary but pound notes inside, and the space under the dressing-table drawer. Hidden in one of the cash boxes was a high security key for a five lever lock, the key fitted nothing in the house, and on one of those evenings during that week my friend sat turning the key over and over, deep in thought.
“You know what,” said Tony suddenly, “this mystery key, it looks like the key to a strong box, you know, the ones you rent in security storage places.”
“You really think so,” I asked.
“Yes, my boss has one, where he keeps valuable documents for the restaurant,” Tony replied, “he's sent me down to put things back there a couple of times.” Tony was a talented chef at a very popular restaurant some miles north of Liverpool, in the Lancashire countryside. The following day I took the key and went into the town to see the solicitor who was handling my Mother's affairs, who had been a family friend for as long as I can remember. They also had kept my mother's will, which meant that, other than personal effects, half of everything went to the local hospital.
I showed the solicitor the key, he took it off of me and examined it closely,”I can confirm that it is from a security box, but it's nothing I know about.”
“Are there any in the town,” I asked.
“No the nearest is Bristol, as far as I know, it has a company code number stamped on it so I can make some enquiries, if you'd like,” offered the solicitor.
“Thanks Jonathan, by the way one thing that is missing, and may be in the box is my granddad's gold hunter watch and chain.”
“That is quite likely,” the legal eagle said as he placed the key into a small brown envelope, “I'll let you know as soon as I find anything.” and he abruptly showed me out, my mother's money had dried up obviously. That phone call never came for four months and it was not the news I had been waiting for, “I'm sorry; I can't find any security box company that fits that number, I will post the key to you, but keep it safe, something may turn up.”
Mum's house was cleared except for a few items that Mum has previously told me never to get rid of. There was this gigantic oak table, I remember Mum taking me aside one day when we were on a visit. “I wanted to tell you some things and I need a promise from you about,” she'd said. “I won't be around for ever and there are some things I want to tell you, when I die you must look everywhere, I have some rainy day money hidden in this dressing-table.” It was one of those low dressing tables with a big circular mirror and a low-down drawer on each side. She pulled one of the two drawers right out and showed me this void under the pedestal, “In there she said.” I was then shown a rather ugly dressing-table set that had sat on the shelf for as long as I had been around. The set consisted of two squat candle holders and a pin tray, all in very chunky glass. “This in particular,” she insisted, “They have been in the family for a couple of hundred years and they are very dear to me, you must promise me that you will never sell these and pass them on to your son.” As she spoke I noticed tears rolling down her cheek, “I'm serious, this is very important to me.”
So we took the big table, some china dogs a box full of documents and the dressing-table set and some other antiques, back to their new home in North-west England. As soon as my wife saw the dressing-table set, she took an instant dislike to it, and that relationship deteriorated when I decided to display it on our own, more modern, dressing-table. Five years later we moved home into a smaller house that was rather less than we'd got for the old one, I have to admit that life had not been good to us and getting some spare cash was a relief. Most of the profit from our house sale went in paying off various debts, but we still had a hefty mortgage, and our youngest had started at university. University is expensive. There's the rent for the accommodation, the tutorial fees, utility bills, and have you seen the cost of the text books? So we were again short of money. We just didn't have room for Mother's table, so, although it choked me up, and the guilt lasted several months, we sent it to a local auctioneer, who gave us an estimate of two-hundred pounds. It was a bit disappointing but even two-hundred would help; in the end the table got almost nine-hundred pounds, so we were pleased, and it eased the guilt somewhat.
The worst part about being somewhat in debt was not the debt, but the arguments my wife and I had about it. Invariably every argument ended with an attack on the dressing-table set. I had to admit, that it was the ugliest set of glass-ware I think I have ever seen. Most arguments also included the families fall from grace; my Mother was descended from the aristocracy of Ireland, but had lost the estate and title after they abandoned the property during the potato riots. There were several legends about the family, but no one knew if they were true or false. One maintained that the family's treasure had been buried somewhere close to the castle, another that Irish peasants had found it and used it to fund the IRA. Another said that the last Baron of Kilkenny had taken everything and shipped out to the West Indies with everything. Any of these could be true as we had many of the heirlooms at home when I was a child, and my Grandma was contacted when I was five years old about fighting the government to win the estate back.
One of the fascinating legends was of the seventh Baron who went out looking for adventure and funded an expedition to south-western Africa in the mid eighteenth century with the Dutch West-India Company. It seems he was missing for almost ten years, and then in 1758 he arrived back on the estate as if nothing had happened. Tradition says that, although he tried to hide it, he returned with considerable riches, he certainly had enough to have a strong room installed in the cellars where they used to hang game birds. Logic dictates that if you build a strong room, you must have a lot of things of great value to store. So was born a legend, possibly started by servants, of something called the 'Horler Stones', but no one knew what they actually were. That was over two-hundred years ago and bears little relevance to today. I was sat on the bed thinking through these things when Vicki came in, “What's the matter with you?”
“Just trying to figure out how we are going to manage,” I answered.
“We'll get by luv', we always do,” said Vicki.
“Not this time Vic, I've just been made redundant, and with no job we haven't got a hope.”
“So, what did you do to get yourself fired?”
“Nothing,” I said, “the orders from customers just stopped coming in.” I remember that started the argument that went on for days.
The theme of the tirade from Vicki became focused on 'all those antiques from your mother's house' and 'what will make you sell them?' The brunt of these 'suggestions' was the ugly dressing table set.
“I can't stand that set,” and, “why do we have to have it displayed there anyway,” Vicki kept repeating, “it's so ugly it almost makes me feel sick.” I resisted selling anything for as long as the severance pay held out, but as the several thousands dwindled to a few hundred my mind started to turn to selling. The point came where I could resist the pressure no longer; Vicki had seen an advert in the local newspaper of an antique sale in the town the following week. We assembled all the items together, including the dressing table set and we took them to the valuation day at a hotel. All together they estimated the group would fetch between fifteen-hundred and two-thousand pounds, less than we had hoped though. The items were taken back home and stacked up in the dining room and on the smokes-glass dining table.
The following week, the day of the auction, the whole family took the items to the saleroom and left them there. I have to admit, I was feeling sick at the thought of breaking my promises to my mother, as we drove back to our home for breakfast. Our eldest son George had brought his wife and young son and daughter with him to help, and we all sat down around the table for bacon sandwiches. I looked down and spotted a huge scratch in the toughened glass table-top, feeling it with my fingers, I asked, “Where's this scratch come from?”
“Oh, I forgot about that, little Susan did it before we left, I meant to tell you Dad,”
“How did she manage that,” I asked.
“Dad, she's only five, she was just playing with those glass candle holders, that were grandma's,” said George, who was an Army Major.
“No, it's OK, I just wondered how she managed to cut safety-glass,” I said. I sat eating my sandwich for a couple of minutes, and then it hit me. I jumped up from the table, without a word, dashed out of the house and into the car, then drove back to the hotel where the auction was taking place.
I arrived in the car-park, to find that it was full; I quickly dumped the car in the entrance and dashed into the hotel. The auction was already well under way and it was one of our lots that were being sold. “Has he sold a glass dressing table set yet,” I asked of a young lady usher.
“Not sure, I don't think so,” she answered. But I was already charging into the main room.
“I want to withdraw some items,” I shouted, almost in panic,” from the middle of the isle. A large man approached me and asked me to be quiet, so I told him I needed to withdraw my items from the sale. He told me to follow him into the next room where all the items were on show. As I crossed into the next room, something made me turn and look behind me. The auctioneer was just introducing a new item and a porter was holding up the three glass pieces that made up the dressing table set. I started to run back into the sale-room and shouted, “No that item's being withdrawn, stop!”
“I'm sorry sir it's a little too late . . .” said the auctioneer.
“Have you had any bids yet,” I interrupted, from almost under the rostrum.
“Then it's not sold and I'm not selling it,” I pushed on.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” said the auctioneer in an exasperated tone, “we will be taking a break of ten minutes, whilst we sort this out.”
The auctioneer and the big man took me into a side room where an office had been set up; I explained that I had changed my mind about selling the family heirlooms. The people tried to dissuade me but I was adamant, and they, in the end, agreed. A porter helped me load the car with the remaining items that had not been sold; thankfully only two items had sold. I drove back home with a smile on my face and a chuckle in my heart. I pulled onto my drive and the family came bounding out, led by Vicki. “What have you done? She shouted, almost in tears.
“I have saved this family, is what I've done my love,” I said through the car window.
“What, by bring all this junk back when it could have paid some bills?”
“Just wait till I explain,” I said. I went to the trunk and retrieved the dressing table set in its little cardboard box.
“Oh no, you couldn't even let those ugly monstrosities go could you,” Vicki said as she abruptly turned and went back into the house, “You'd better have a darn good explanation or you'll be sleeping in the garage tonight,” she shouted back, and then as a second thought, “you and the glass monstrosities.”
Back inside the house George was trying to calm his mother down, but as I entered, she said, “Well come on mister redundant, what's your explanation?”
“Come over here,” I said, indicating the glass-top table, “look at this scratch.”
“Ya, so; George has already apologised for it,” Vicki threw at me.
“You won't have to gaze upon this set any more; at least two of them are going into our bank.”
Vicki laughed, “Even we have more money in the bank than they said those are worth.”
“Yes, but that was when they thought they were glass.”
“Just a minute Mum,” interrupted George, “I think I get this now, Susan made the scratch with one of the candle holders, and it's toughened safety-glass.”
“So!” said Vicki.
“Mum, what do you cut glass with,” persisted George.
“What are you going on about George,” she said, and then the penny dropped, “that's not a diamond, is it?”
“It must be,” I said, “as far as I know diamond is the only thing that looks like that, which can scratch or cut glass.”
The following day we took the three pieces to a local diamond dealer to test them, “I have to say, that in the fifty years I have been dealing in diamonds, I have never seen anything like this,” the jeweller stated.
“But is it Diamond,” I asked.
“But of course,” jeweller said.
“Can you give us an estimate,” asked Vicki.
“Hmm,” he said, “It all depends on what you wish to do with them, they can't be cut as they are a wrong shape, as they are, a curiosity, may be two-million, if you break them up for cutting, you can double that at least.” Vicki had to hang onto the counter because of the shock.
“What if we just sell the pin-tray,” I asked.
“That's the largest, so my guess would be around two and a half to three million, would you like me to contact a dealer for you?”
“Yes please,” Vicki and I said in unison.
“Well,” said I, “that clears up the mystery of the 'Horler Stones' and to think you hated them.”
“Have you not read this Scripture: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;” [Mark 12:10]
© Copyright, Derek P. Blake January 7th, 2019 All Rights of publication Reserved
Dear members, I would appreciate any comments on the above story, before I submit it to a Christian magazine.