The Netterton Jewels - part 1
The coaches were queuing on the driveway that led to the grand entrance to Netterton Hall, the seat of Lord Netterton of Holdsworth. Standing in a large tract of parkland, His Lordship was known for his many donations to society, as well as his outstanding work to ease the lot of those who lived in the more run-down areas of the fair cities of Victorian Britain.
The occasion was a most auspicious one – the twenty-first birthday of his daughter, Christina, and therefore her coming-out to society. Flaming torches lined the driveway as the great and good of society stepped down and made their way into the entrance hall, progressing into the grand ballroom to socialise, eat a cold buffet and dance the night away.
At the centre of the ballroom stood Lord Netterton himself – a dashing figure for a man of fifty, dressed in the height of fashion and conversing with the gathered intelligentsia. His discourse was only taken by a nod from a footman, indicating that it was time for his speech. Excusing himself, he walked over to where a tall, dark haired beauty in a taffeta ball gown was talking to a small group of ladies.
“It’s time, Annabelle,” he said as he took his wife by the arm and led her to the doorway. Turning at the entrance, he nodded to the band to ask them to finish their musical rendition.
“My lords and ladies, may I first thank you for your attendance here today. You honour my wife and me, as well as our daughter, with your presence. As you know, we are here to celebrate Christina’s coming of age, and we know of no better way than to say to you, please welcome to the party Lady Christina Netterton.”
Christina walked in, a vision in white silk and taffeta. The gown she was wearing was gathered around the bodice, with small sleeves that fell off her light coloured shoulders and white silk gloves that came over her lower arms. From her waist, the skirt expanded to cover her feet, but that was not the thing that caught people’s eyes as she walked through the crowd.
What really caught their eye were the jewels that adorned her dress and body. On her light blonde hair was a diadem of pure gold, studded with emeralds and a large diamond in the centre that sparkled in the candlelight. Her ears were adorned with a pair of light gold earrings, with two small pearls set into the metal. Around her neck hung a necklace made of 21 carat gold, with pearls hanging from the front of the necklace before reaching a large cross, with four small rubies set into the four parts and a large blood-red ruby in the centre. Finally, on the middle finger of each hand was a gold ring with a large diamond set into the centre.
“I think she likes her birthday present,” Annabelle whispered to her husband as they walked down to meet their daughter. He merely smiled in return as he held his hands out to greet her in the centre.
“My dear Christina,” he said as he held her hands, “You are now a young woman, and as such we ask those present to welcome you to society.” Into her ear he whispered “How do you like your present?”
“I love it Daddy,” she whispered back as she hugged her mother. Lord Netterton smiled as she went out into the waiting crowd – it had taken many years to assemble the jewellery he had presented her with that morning, to the delight of her and the admiration of her mother. No questions had been asked as to the cost of such an extravagant gift – Annabelle knew he could afford anything for his daughter.
He had indeed sacrificed much for the gift – but not in a financial sense. If his wife knew that the various robberies at friends and society contacts over the last few years by a gentleman dressed in black had been committed by her husband, he did not know what might happen.
The emeralds in her diadem? Taken one night from the collection of Baroness Harcourt, when he visited late one night. He remembered that one well, as he had had the pleasure of sitting and talking with her before silencing her and preventing her raising the alarm. She had not seen through the thin muslin mask he was wearing. He could see her now, talking with Annabelle and not realising the jewels that flashed green in her head were once hers. The diamond in the diadem, and those in her rings, had come from a similar visit to the late Lady DeMontfort where he liberated them in the form of her own jewellery.
The rubies had come from a visit he paid to a visiting Maharaja, or rather to his beautiful wife as he attended court. She had sat there, her scarf covering her face and her hands secured around the bottom of her four poster bed, as he tipped them into his little velvet sack. The rich colours of her attire had not deflected him from his target that night. As for the pearls, they had once adorned a necklace that he had taken on a visit to a certain madam in the Whitechapel area of London, who was in no position to refer that crime to the police without her own barely tolerated activities been exposed.
It was a hobby he had cultivated over the years, one he enjoyed – the thrill, the pleasure he got from the beautiful women he met – but one nobody suspected or knew off. As he watched his daughter dancing, he swore that the true origin of what he heard others already calling the Netterton Jewels would always remain a secret.
What he, what no-one could ever have predicted is what would happen in the years to come.
The limousine drew up outside the nondescript building, and as the chauffeur stepped out to open the passenger door the woman inside looked out, wondering what this place was. She stepped out as the liveried man held the door open, adjusting her cashmere wrap to cover and protect her bare shoulders from the slight chill in the early spring air.
She was a small lady, with a body that could only be described as stout, but she carried herself with an air of grace and confidence that belied her physique. Her grey hair was fashioned into a tight bob for the evening, and her arms covered by a pair of long black opera gloves that complemented the black velvet of her evening dress. As she walked in, the chauffeur closing the car door and moving to open the door to the building for her, she clutched her small black handbag close to her and wondered if she was in the right place. The question was further compounded as she walked into what was obviously a waiting area, at one side of which sat a uniformed guard behind a desk. Peering through her glasses, she began to suspect that this may be just a front.
George looked up as the woman walked in, and came round to greet her. “This way, ma’am,” he said as he directed her to a lift door that waited open. “You are expected,” he added as he walked her in, standing back as the lift door closed. She stood, looking round as the lift ascended, finally stopping as the doors opened to reveal a well-furnished penthouse.
She stepped out, the heels of her dress shoes sinking into the rich wool carpet, and looked round. On the walls were hung various paintings, one in particular catching her eye. She looked at the woman in Georgian dress portrayed, a smile on her lips and a glint in her eye, as she sat in her peach and white dress below a tree.
“One day, they may discover that the painting they have is an excellent forgery,” a voice like melted chocolate said, and the woman turned round to see a tall, thin, dark-haired lady walk in. She was wearing a black Versace dress, the front cut to reveal her chest, but as she walked forward she had a smile on her face and her hands outstretched in greeting.
“It is an honour to finally make your acquaintance in full, Eccellenza,” she said as she took the hands of her visitor, “To make the acquaintance of Colette Aldington is a truly momentous occasion.”
“The honour is entirely mine, Madame, but please – call me Coco,” she said with a smile, her periwinkle blue eyes glistening.
“My assistant, Penelope,” Madame X said as another woman came in, her red hair falling over the shoulders of the long dress she was wearing. “Please, allow her to take your wrap, and she will ensure it is safely stored as we go into dinner. I have been awaiting this evening with much anticipation.”
“As have I, Madame – when John left the number, I never thought it would lead to this meeting.”
“Indeed,” Madame X replied as she took Coco by the arm. “Come – I feel my chef may have excelled himself this time, and I have much to talk to you about.”
“Father, thank you for bringing me to London with you. I know it is only a short time since mother left us, but I appreciate what you have done.”
Christina looked over at her father as they sat in the drawing room of the London residence of Lord Netterton, nestled in the Georgian terrace in Belgravia. She had grown into a handsome, poised woman, and Lord Netterton had noted this as well.
“Well, I would do anything for you, especially with the season starting so soon. I am just sorry that your mother could not be here with us – she would have loved to see you in the bloom of your courtship.”
Christina blushed at the mention of her fiancé. Major Estercoat was currently based at the Palace as a member of the Household Guard, and the real reason for this trip was to allow her father to discuss certain financial matters with him. It also allowed him to follow up on certain projects he had a role in, trying to relieve the lot of the immigrant community in the Limehouse area. He stood up and walked out of the window, looking towards the road as the coaches passed by.
“Come – let us take lunch. I’m sure Mrs Bridges has prepared a fine repast for us, and then I believe you have an appointment with the Major?”
“Father!” Christina called out, but the blush on her cheek told the whole story. “What will you are doing while I am occupied?”
“Oh, I thought I might take a turn in the park,” Lord Netterton replied in honesty. The fact he wished to assess points of entry into a certain house on the opposite side of the park was something she did not need to know. As he looked out of the window, he noticed a smart brougham pulled up a short way down the road.
Shaking his head, he turned as the door opened and a maid walked in, curtseying and saying “Lunch is ready, sir.”
It had grown dark by the time Lord Netterton returned to the house, alighting from his carriage and nodding to various people as they greeted him. It had been a most profitable afternoon in many respects, both from his efforts in the East End of London and with his discussion with Major Estercote regarding his dowry. He had also ascertained a plan of approach for a visit he planned for later that night once the household had retired for the night.
Ringing on the doorbell, he waited for Jenkins to open the door, removing his kid leather gloves as he did so. The heavy door opened, and Lord Netterton walked in without a second glance.
“Take my coat will you, Jenkins,” he said as he removed his greatcoat and top hat, “I wish to speak with Christina before retiring for the evening.”
“She’s waiting for you in the drawing room, Your Lordship,” an unknown voice answered, and Lord Netterton slowly turned round. A stranger was standing in front of him, short and swarthy in his common garb, with a large cudgel that he swung menacingly in the palm of his open hand. A large black mask covered his eyes, as Lord Netterton quickly appraised the situation.
“I see,” he eventually said with a smile on his face. “May I ask where Jenkins is?”
“Your butler and the rest of the domestic staff are – indisposed,” the stranger said with a smile. “My boss wishes to talk to you – and your charming daughter is keeping that person company right now.”
In the basement, Jenkins was indeed staring helplessly from his position in a wooden chair at the cook and the two maids. He and the cook were sat facing each other, heavy ropes securing them to the chairs they occupied across their chest and legs. His ankles were secured separately to the chair legs, while those of the cook were lashed together and pulled under the chair, her long skirt covering her knees and the way her feet were tied to the rear rung of the chair.
The two maids were lying on their sides on the floor facing each other, their legs pulled behind them and bound together as well as to their tied wrists. Ropes secured their arms to their sides and their legs above their knees, the skirt of their dresses flaring out to reveal the stockings and shoes.
All four were gagged with heavy cloths, and staring at the two masked and armed men watching them.
“I see,” Lord Netterton said eventually as he placed his hat and gloves on the table. “Be assured, sir, that if you have harmed any of the females in this house, you will regret it. On that you have my word.”
“They’re fine”, the stranger said as he walked towards the door to the drawing room. “Come – my boss does not like to be kept waiting.”
Lord Netterton followed the man as he opened the door, only to be shocked by the sight of his daughter lying on her side on a chaise longue in the centre of the room. She was still dressed in her cream dress from earlier in the day, but her arms were pulled behind her back. From the way her arms were further secured to her side with layers of brown rope, Lord Netterton could presume her wrists were similarly securely bound and fixed to her back with more coils around her nipped waist. Her legs were secured in three places, the dress pulled back to reveal the white gaiters over her silk shoes which had yet more rope around them to secure her ankles together.
She looked at her father, eyes wide with fear, but as she tried to speak the sound was muffled by the large white napkin that had been stuffed into her mouth. Lord Netterton quickly stepped forward more concerned for Christina’s safety than his own, only for a female voice to say “She will be quite fine, Lord Netterton, but we have business to discuss.”
Turning slowly, Lord Netterton saw a tall, thin woman sitting opposite Christina, dressed in a rich green silk gown in a Chinese style. Her skin tone and facial structure showed she had Oriental descent, but the Harlequin mask over her eyes meant only her striking green irises were visible.
“I do not believe I have had the pleasure,” Lord Netterton said as he looked at the visitor. Behind her stood two other men, also with cudgels as they stood a respectful distance back.
“We have not met, but I am aware of your work. My minions call me the Dragon Queen – perhaps you have heard of me.”
“Indeed – much of my work in Limehouse has been to combat your influence. Your presence here indicates I have, shall we say, succeeded to some degree?”
The Dragon Queen smiled as she stood up. “To a tolerable degree yes – your charitable work has kept a lot of attention away from me, but when it started to impact on my small business enterprises...”
“You mean the opium houses? That is blight on the area.”
“A necessary one, however. You would be surprised, I feel, at some of the personages that visit my little homes from home. At any rate, I felt I had to come personally to deliver a message.”
“And that message is?”
The visitor turned and looked straight at His Lordship. “Cease your efforts, or else I will call again and the wedding you so look forward to will be postponed – permanently.”
“What do you mean?” Lord Netterton looked anxiously at his daughter, who stared back in equal horror.
“Perhaps it is best not to go into details. Let us just say you would never see your daughter again in this country. Do as I ask, and we leave you alone.”
“And if I refuse?”
“You love your daughter too much to do that, Your Lordship. I also require some compensation from you for your effect on my business – I hope you understand.”
“What are you taking?”
“These,” the Dragon Queen said as she pointed to a small collection of velvet cases. “Your daughter’s jewellery will suffice, I think.”
“NO!!!” he screamed as he ran forward, only to fall senseless to the ground as one of the Lady’s guards caught him squarely at the back of the head with his cudgel. Christina screamed through her gag as he lay there, a small trickle of blood coming from the base of his skull.
“When he awakens, remind him of our chat,” the Oriental woman said as she departed with her henchmen, carrying the cases containing her jewellery and leaving the two of them alone.
“... and that is how John was instrumental when I first started out.”
Coco laughed, a warm and relaxed laugh as she sat with Madame X and Penelope following the meal. They had talked of past experiences and tales of close calls, and as they sat in comfortable chairs with their after dinner drinks she felt she had learnt a great deal.
“So, my dear Coco, I suppose you are curious as to why I asked you here?”
Coco looked at Madame X as she sat back, her brandy glass in hand. “I must confess, I was slightly worried that I had crossed paths with you in some inadvertent way,” she said as she sipped her own gin, “but you did say you had a task that may interest me.”
Madame X smiled as she took a sip from her glass. “Tell me,” she said as she leaned forward, “Have you heard of the Netterton Jewels?”
Penelope could not help smiling as she watched Coco’s eyes widen in surprise. “Of course I have – the stories anyway. I thought they disappeared some forty or fifty years ago?”
“They do have a habit of appearing and disappearing,” Madame X said as Penelope stood up and went to a bookcase. “You know of the original theft?”
“Yes – the story of Lord Netterton and the Dragon Queen, and ever since then when they have appeared they are stolen again soon after. How many times now?”
“At least four I know of and four that have never been reported,” Madame X said as Penelope returned with a book in her hand. “This is a private copy of a restricted printing of a memoir from the 1920’s. Please, take it and read the chapter that has been marked with the insert.”
Coco accepted the book and looked through her glasses at the inscription on the front cover.
Memoirs of an interesting life, by Bartholomew J Rhymaes, Bart.
“Now that is a name I have heard of,” Coco said with a smile as she started to read the entry.