"I was just letting myself into my house," I stated.
"Your house is it, now how do you make that out?" the constable asked.
"When my mother was killed I inherited it. It was left to me in trust. Therefore, it is my property, my house, and I was just letting myself in."
"I don't think so, this place was a crime scene until yesterday and there is some solicitor coming to take possession of it this morning. So, I think you better come with me so you can explain to my sergeant what you are up to."
I was about to say something when Dad pulled up in the Santa Fe on the wrong side of the road, parking it on the double yellow lines in front of the house. He lowered the driver’s side window.
"Is there a problem Johnny?" he asked.
"Do you know this young man," the police officer asked.
"Yes, he's my son."
"Well, I caught him trying to enter these premises."
"No doubt he was, it is his house. He lived there till last March and I know he still has a key for it. It seems my ex still had him registered as residing there."
The police constable looked confused. Dad handed the car keys to Lee instructing him to park the Santa Fe in front of the garages which were around the corner. That done Dad got back to negotiating with the police constable. After about five minutes, I think the constable decided that this was somewhat above his pay grade. The fact that he recognised Dad from the TV may well have helped. It was agreed that we could go into the house, but Dad gave an assurance that nothing would be touched until the solicitor arrived. Dad indicated that I should lead the way in, followed by Lee then Dad. The police officer stayed outside.
In fact, Martin arrived about ten minutes later, in a bit of a rush. He handed Dad a bunch of keys then apologised that he could not stay to help but he had been summoned.
"Bernard?" Dad asked.
"Yes, they moved him into a private room this morning and he has access to a phone."
"Well, at least he is getting better," Dad observed.
We spent about an hour going through the main rooms of the house. Lee had brought in several fold flat plastic packing crates. He also had a clipboard with pad and some coloured sticky tags to put on things. As we moved through the rooms, small items which Dad or I decided we wanted to keep, were wrapped up and put in the crates. Larger items were marked with one of the coloured tags and a note made on the clipboard pad.
Lee explained to me that Jim and Steven would be arriving about one with the Luton van. When they got here they would know what to load from the coloured stickers.
I was somewhat surprised about the number of items of furniture that Dad told Lee to mark. When I commented on this, Dad told me that they were pieces that had come from the Hampstead house when his father had retired, and his parents moved to Lynnhaven. Most of the pieces were antique, the rest of them had sentimental value, such as the rocking chair that Dad said used to belong to his grandfather.
When we got to the first floor, I tried the door that led to the rooms over the garages. It was locked. It had been locked when I tried it during my visit in December. I asked Dad to unlock it, hoping that the key for it was on the bunch that Martin had given him. If it was not, we would have to search the house for the key. Fortunately, it was.
I unlocked the door, then went down the narrow passage that connected the main house to the old stable block. Opening the first door to what had been my old workshop I stood and looked through the door.
"The fucking bitch!" I exclaimed. Dad quickly came down the passage and looked into the room. It was full of all my modelling stuff, tools, plans, materials, and models, completed and uncompleted. My model of America sat on the workbench, just where I had left it. I turned to Dad. "She said she had thrown it out."
Dad nodded. "She probably could not be bothered to. I expect you want all this taken back to the Priory."
"Too right I do."
"Is there a Poundstretcher around here?" Lee asked from behind Dad.
"Yes, there is one in Kentish Town, it's about two miles from here. Why?" I replied.
"Because we do not have enough crates to pack this lot and I think it would be better in some plastic boxes anyway," Lee answered.
Dad agreed and suggested that I should go with Lee as I knew where the place was. Although the distance to Poundstretcher was less than two miles, the combination of London's oneway system and London traffic meant it took nearly twenty minutes to get there. Once there, Lee purchased twenty large plastic storage boxes and twenty more of the folding plastic crates. With the boxes stacked inside each other, we only just had room in the back of the Santa Fe to get them all in. When I mentioned this to Lee he pointed out that the stuff going back would be packed on the van. I had to point out that the Luton van was not that large.
When we got back, Dad was up in mother's bedroom. I suppose at one time it had been their room. He had the doors to wardrobes open and was looking at mother's collection of dresses and suits. We discussed what should be done with them, as many were haute couture. In the end Dad phoned some charity and asked if it was possible for someone to collect them today, whilst we were here.
Lee gave me a hand to pack up the stuff in my workroom, which was quite a job. The models alone took ten boxes. I had to partially disassemble America to get it into one of the boxes. Then there were the tools and my books and plans. We were about halfway through it when Dad came through to tell us that Steven and Jim had arrived. He also told me that he needed to discuss what to do about some of my mother's things.
When we got downstairs, we found the Luton van parked outside the front. Steven was sitting in the van. Jim wanted to know if there was somewhere better to park for loading. Dad suggested that if Lee could move the Santa Fe, then the Steven could park the Luton across the front of the two garages. We should then be able to load the vans up through the garages.
"Have you got a key to them?" I asked, knowing that the connecting door through to the garage was kept locked.
"I hope so," Dad commented, leading the way through to the back of the house. Once we got there it took three or four tries before Dad found the right key. I got a surprise when I got to the garage. Both my old bikes were still there. She had told Dad that she had thrown my racer, the one Dad had given me a couple of years ago, out. I had presumed she had also thrown out the old BMX I had when I was ten.
My mother's cars were still in the garage, which I guess came as something of a surprise to Dad. He said something about her saying that it was not worth having a car in London. As I opened the garage door to let Steven and Jim in, Dad was looking at the cars. There was a Smart convertible, which I knew my mother had used for driving around London, Next to it, where I would have expected her BMW to be, was a car I did not know and had never seen before. I asked Dad what it was.
"It's a TVR Sagaris," Dad informed me.
"What are you going to do with it?"
"What are you going to do with it?" Dad replied. "It's your car. though I doubt if you will be able to get insurance to drive it till you have been driving at least five years."
"It looks more like a racing car, Is it legal on the roads."
Dad looked at the tax disc, then confirmed that it was. By now Lee, Steven and Jim had come into the garage and were drooling over the Sagaris. Lee also asked Dad what he was going to do with it. There was a bit of discussion but the decision was inevitable from the start, we would take the cars back to the Priory. Once that had been decided Dad phoned his insurance company to get some cover on both cars. I did raise a query about mother's BMW as I could not see her getting rid of that, Dad said he better get Martin onto it.
Once Dad had arranged insurance, there was another problem. The Sagaris was only covered for drivers over twenty-five with at least five years driving experience. That meant that Dad had to drive it home. It was decided that Steven would drive the Smart car back, leaving Lee with the Santa Fe and Jim with the van. Jim assured Dad that driving the van back to Dunford would not be a problem, provided he could get away before it got dark. That said, we set about loading stuff onto the van.
It wasn't dark when Jim set off, but it was getting dark. Steven followed him in the Smart. Dad and I set about helping Lee to load the Santa Fe. Dad put some stuff in the Sagaris, but there was not much room in it for anything. Once the Santa Fe was full we looked around the house, There were still quite a few boxes of stuff left. Dad suggested that he would get a hire van and come down again tomorrow to pick up the rest. Lee stated that he had made arrangements to have lunch with his parents on Sunday. Dad assured him that was no problem. He was sure that he and I could manage to load up what was left. Lee suggested using a covered trailer rather than a hire van. Then Dad could come down in the Santa Fe, as it had a tow bar on it.
Once Lee, Jim and Steven had set off back to the Priory, Dad drove the Sagaris out of the garage and parked it in front of the garage. Then he came back into the garage and started to lock everything up. As we went through to the front, he asked me what I wanted to do with the bikes. I thought about it for a moment, then suggested we take them back to Dunford. There were a couple of the younger lads at the youth club who could make good use of them. Dad stated as he was now using a trailer, he would put the bike rack on the top of the Santa Fe in the morning. He also suggested that I should go back to the Priory with him on Sunday evening, rather than staying till Monday morning. A suggestion I found a bit annoying until I thought about it. It made some sense to go back with Dad if he was in Town. Dad did not say anything directly but he hinted that I might be a bit in the way at Joseph's with Aunt Debora wanting to be at the hospital visiting Uncle Bernard.
Once we had locked the house up, setting the alarm as we did so, Dad gave me a lift back to Hampstead. He had apparently phoned Aunt Debora to check if she was in. She was, and when we arrived Dad and Aunt Debora disappeared into the depths of the house, no doubt to talk about Uncle Bernard. I stayed in the kitchen with Joseph drinking a large cola.
Joseph informed me that his father had seemed a lot better today. He was sitting up in bed and talking. It would be eight to ten days before he was allowed home. I asked Joseph what were the plans for Sunday, as I had to tell him that I would not be around after lunchtime. Turned out he was apologising to me as they were going to the hospital in the afternoon and then were going down to the Kent house.
For some reason I felt annoyed by the fact that he had not told me earlier. However, it turned out that something had come up this afternoon which had resulted in a change of plan. I told Joseph about Dad wanting me to go back with him in the afternoon.
"I wonder if Mum said anything?" Joseph asked.
Suddenly everything fell into place. I knew Dad had phoned Aunt Debora, so she must have said something about them having to go down to the Kent house Sunday afternoon. Dad knew I would not be able to stay with Joseph.
Joseph and I were just about to go up to Joseph's room when Dad and Aunt Debora came back. Before he left Dad slipped me a pile of twenties and told me to take Aunt Debora and Joseph out to dinner.
Dad called me just before eleven on Sunday morning saying he was setting off for Mother's house. I suppose I should really consider it to be mine, but I could not quite get my head around that idea. Aunt Debora had told me last night that she would drop me off at the house sometime between one and two, when they were on their way to visit Uncle Bernard. I told her that I could go over on the tube, as it was out of their way for going to Westminster. It was, of course, fairly pointless arguing over it with Aunt Debora, she had made her mind up and that is how it was going to be. After all she is a woman.
After dinner last night Joseph and I had an early night, at least earlier, it was before ten when we went up to shower and go to bed. Once in bed I sensed that Joseph was distracted.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"Wish I knew," he replied. "All I know is that there is a big family meeting at our place. Micah and Bethany get back from their honeymoon tomorrow afternoon and are going straight to the Kent house. My Grandfather Isaac is going to be there, as are my uncles. We are picking Aunt Rachel up when we go to the hospital. That's why we can drop you at your mother's house, Aunt Rachel's place is by The Angel."
We discussed what might be going on but neither of us could make a decent guess. The only thing that Joseph was certain of was it must be something important as Uncle Bernard had spent a lot of time yesterday talking with Martin.
Aunt Debora dropped me off at the side of the house, by the garage, just after two o'clock. The Santa Fe was pulled into the garage, but the garage door was open and Dad was loading some stuff into the back of his car. There was what looked like a small horse box parked in front of the garage. Aunt Debora pulled up in front of the other garage and got out to talk to Dad. I was too busy saying goodbye to Joseph to hear what they were talking about.
Once Aunt Debora and Joseph had gone, I followed Dad into the house.
"Look Johnny, I'm sorry I cut things short for you with Joseph, but there is something I need to check out and I did not want anyone outside the family knowing about it."
"Dad, why did you not check it out when you were here by yourself?"
"Because Johnny this is your house, and whatever we find, if anything will be yours. You also need to know about what I am going to show you."
Dad led the way up to the master bedroom on the second floor. It used to be my mother's room. one I had only been in a few times in my life, so far as I could remember.
Upon entering the room, Dad went to the built-in wardrobe and opened it, then felt about on the top shelf. After a couple of seconds, he pulled his arm back, holding a long square stick, with a hook on the end. It looked a bit like the type of stick that was used to open high windows, but those are usually longer. He then told me to follow him into the bathroom. I did.
My mother's bathroom was somewhere I had never entered, so far as I could remember. There was a claw-foot bath standing at one end. At the other end was a shower cubical, in which no doubt mother had entertained a number of her friends. Along the far wall between the bath and the shower were the other utilities of the bathroom. It was all nicely laid out and decorated, except for the mirror. Why would anyone put a mirror between the toilet and the bidet? It was in the totally wrong place and it did not fit in with the decoration of the bathroom, and at about four feet square, totally out of proportion with everything else in the room.
"By the looks of it, whoever searched this room for the police, had no sense of style," Dad commented.
"What makes you think that?" I asked. I was about to comment that whoever had placed that mirror in here had not sense of style or practicality. However, Dad got in first.
"Because the mirror is not broken. Without this the only way they could open it would be to force it, which would have broken it. This was still in its rightful place." Dad stated, waving the stick around.
Dad walked over and stood in front of the mirror, indicating that I should stand at his side. Once I was there, he took the stick and laid it against the mirror, about three inches in from the side. Dad was holding the stick lightly and he slid it around a bit. Suddenly it seemed to snap about a half inch to the right, then there was a loud clunk. Dad took hold of the stick and pulled upon it. The mirror swung open. On the back of it was what looked like a complicated piece of machinery. I must have looked puzzled.
"Magnetic lock," Dad informed me. "It was my final year project at university. I had to design a concealed locking mechanism. When you place five strong magnets of the right polarity over the right places on the outside cover, they attract five magnets of the opposing polarity that are on the inside. As those are attracted they move five levers, and those, through some mechanics, withdraw the bolts holding the cover closed.
"Now I need to find the right key."
I looked back at the mirror and saw a gun metal grey door with a lock in it. Dad clearly found the right key, as he quickly unlocked the door. Behind it was the door to a safe with a combination lock.
"I suppose now you are going to listen to the tumblers drop to open the lock," I said.
"No, that would not work. There are no tumblers, the lock is electronic. That is just for decoration." He took hold of the tumbler knob turned it then pulled it. It swung to the side revealing a numeric keypad.
"You know Dad, mother is bound to have changed the combination since you lived here."
"I have no doubt that you are right Johnny. In fact, I know you are right as she phoned me and asked me how to do it."
"Couldn't she just have looked it up in the manual?"
"Not for this, Johnny. It's a one off, I designed and built it myself."
"So?" I asked.
"I told your mother how to change the combination. I did not tell here that there was a master combination which cannot be changed." Dad proceeded to type in a series of numbers. When he entered the last number there was a whirling sound. Then the door popped open. Dad grabbed the handle and swung the door fully open. The opening was about three feet square, and maybe just over a foot deep. There were three shelves inside, all filled with papers, books and boxes.
"You better get one of the packing boxes from the first floor," Dad said. I nodded, then went down to the first floor to find an empty packing box. Fortunately, we had got plenty yesterday.
When I got back Dad was looking through the boxes. Taking them off the shelf, removing their lids, then replacing the lid and putting them on the table by the side of the sink. He told me to start packing them in the box, so I did. About three boxes later he gave out a sigh of satisfaction.
"What is it?" I asked. Dad was looking into a deep box made of leather with a hinged lid.
"Your great grandmother's jewellery," Dad replied. He handed me the box. It was about eighteen inches in length, twelve in breadth and about a ten inches deep. I looked into it. It was full of jewellery. "Your great grandmother was Olga Vorontsov before she married my grandfather. Her father was a minor member of the Vorontsov princely family. As such he was part of the Imperial Embassy to London at the time of the revolution.
"Actually, the family were more closely related to the British Royal family than the Russian. Olga's mother was a Saxe-Coburg. As a result, they decided to remain in England. The jewels in that box were Olga's mother's. On her death they passed to Olga. Olga passed them to my mother, who having no daughters gave them to the wife of her oldest son upon his marriage."
"You were certain they would be here?" I asked.
"Not certain, but I expected they would be here. As unscrupulous as your mother was, she never broke her word. If she gave you her word, she would stick by it, come hell or high water. She promised Grandma Olga that she would give the jewels to her eldest daughter, or the wife of her eldest son if there was no daughter."
When Dad said that it made sense. My mother never broke her word to me, ever. It was just she was extremely careful never to make any commitment. The few times she said she would do something or sort something out, she did. Usually with ruthless efficiency.
I was thinking about this, holding the box of jewels, when Dad reminded me that we needed to get things packed up and loaded.
It did not take that long to empty the safe and pack its contents in the storage box. Then we took it down to the ground floor and placed it in the kitchen. Dad said that considering its contents, we should not load it until we were ready to go.
That done it took us another couple of hours to complete the packing of everything that Dad or I wanted moved to the Priory. Then we had to load the trailer and the Santa Fe, which included putting the bikes on the bike rack. Fortunately, Dad had already put all the seats down so there was plenty of room to load the boxes into. The trailer was full, and car was almost full, Dad put one more box in it, the one containing the safe's contents.
There were still about another twenty boxes piled up in the garage. Dad pulled out his mobile and dialled a number. Whoever, he was calling answered pretty quickly. Dad identified himself and said that he was ready for the collection. He then rang off. It could not have been more than ten minutes before a white van with two men arrived. They quickly loaded the remaining boxes into van. Dad checked they had the address to deliver them to and they assured him that they would be delivered in the morning.
Once they had gone, Dad told me to get in the car. I did, Dad joined me and drove the car out of the garage. Once outside he parked the car, told me to stay with it, and went back into the house to lock up. It was about ten minutes before he came around the corner, having exited the house by the front door, and got back to the car. We hooked up the trailer and started off.
As we started out of London Dad told me that he had intended to stop somewhere for a bite to eat. However, considering what we had in the back, he was not too keen on leaving the car. On that I could agree. I did, though, suggest going through a drive-thru, if we saw one. We did not see one.
On the way home I asked Dad that if my great grandmother was a member of the Russian royal family did that mean I was.
"No Johnny, Grandma Olga always said that we were too distant to be royal and too close to be common. My great grandfather, Olga's father, was just a prince but always went by Mister Dimitri Vorontsov. He pointed out that he was not a grand duke or anything important, though he cousin was."
"A grand duke, a prince and a count, I think he also had a couple of dukedoms. I met him once, though he was very old by then."
"What's very old."
"I'm not sure, I was only seven and to me he seemed to be about a hundred, so he was probably on the wrong side of fifty." Dad laughed.
It had gone seven by time we got back to the Priory. Mum informed us that she had not done anything for dinner as she had not known what time we would be back. Dad suggested we should go to the Crooked Man, but first we had to unload the car and trailer. It did not take long to get the stuff out of the Santa Fe and into one of the storerooms in the guest wing. Dad, though, did put the box with the stuff from the safe into his study. The stuff in the trailer was left there. Dad said it could be unloaded tomorrow. I think that was a job for Lee.
We went down to the Crooked Man for dinner. There were just the three of us, Dad, Mum and me. The grandparents had gone up to Manston on Saturday. James, had taken the boys and Jenny to the cinema and would not be back till about nine. Dad informed me that James was flying back to Oz in the morning.
"I thought he was in Cambridge for another week," I stated.
"He was supposed to be, but something has come up back in Oz and he's been called back. Which reminds me, I'm taking him to Southminster in the morning to get the train into Town, do you want me to drop you at the college on the way? It will allow Anne to have a lay in."
"Wish I could," Mum said.
"Why can't you?" Dad asked. "You said your first class was at ten thirty tomorrow."
"My first class is, but I need to see my tutor in the morning, Got a nine o'clock appointment with her. So, Johnny may as well go in with me. That way he can have a lay in. We won't have to leave till gone eight."
"How's that a lay in?" I asked. "It still means that I have to be up at seven."
"Yes, but James' train is at ten past eight, so your father will be leaving for Southminster sometime shortly after seven."
I saw Mum's point.
"Are you going into see Bernard?" Mum asked Dad.
"Depends on what Debora says when I phone her. If he is up to visitors, I probably will."
"So, you're going into Town tomorrow?" I asked. "I did not think you were going in this week coming."
"Neither did I," Dad replied. "I'd got a nice week planned out of writing and bringing Lee up to speed on what's going on. Chris called me this morning. They need an expert on climate change for the World at One, they will probably use the same interview for PM as well. They are recording me before transmission, so I should be finished by one at the latest, could go and see Bernard then, and get back before the rush."
It was getting on for nine when we got back to the Priory. I had some college work to finish off, so went up to my room. Had just got up there when Joseph texted me asking if I we could talk.
"How are the wilds of Kent?" I asked when he answered my call.
"Boring," Joseph replied. "There is some big meeting going on downstairs, but Micah and me are excluded. Really annoyed Micah as he had come down to Kent specially for it."
"What's it about?"
"Don't really know except that it is something to do with Aunt Ruth."
We chatted for about half an hour. Joseph was really annoyed with being dragged down to Kent then not allowed to take part in whatever discussions were going on. I was annoyed as it had meant we could not spend Sunday together, we had a lot planned.
Although we speculated a lot about what the meeting was called for, in truth neither of us had any real idea. Although I had met Aunt Ruth at Dad and Mum's wedding, I did not know her, so had no idea what might be going on.
The end result of my chat with Joseph was that I did not get my work finished till nearly twelve and it was gone twelve before I got to bed. I was grateful for the half hour or so layin I got in the morning by not going in with Dad.
College was much of a muchness on Monday. The only good thing about it was that Mr Tauton was back teaching maths. He apologised for not being there last week but informed us that he had been on his honeymoon.
At lunchtime I went over to Marge's. I was able to get over early, no longer having French so got a seat at an empty table. The other seats were soon taken up by students I knew by sight only, though they all seemed to know me. To avoid getting into a discussion about past events, I just stated that I needed to listen to The World at One and put my headphones on.
Dad's interview was surprisingly brief. One of the London think tanks had put out a policy paper that related to climate change and Dad was being asked his opinion of it. I must admit that I did not think that much of Dad's comments on the subject, they seemed a bit wishy-washy. It was a point I put to Dad when I got home that evening.
"The thing is Johnny, they were wishy-washy. I was having to comment on a report I had not seen. All I had seen was a summary of it and its findings. I was critical of it but had to be careful in what I was saying, as I had not read the full report."
"Then why did they ask you to go on?" I asked.
"Because Attenborough was not available."
"Wouldn't he have had the same problem?"
"Not really, He has the authority to express his opinions regardless of what the report says, all I can do is reply to points raised in the report."
The rest of the week was very much the same, though I did manage to get into the yard on Wednesday afternoon for a couple of hours. Steve checked that I would be there on Saturday, and I assured him that it would not be a problem. Then it turned out to be one. Joseph phoned on Thursday evening to say that he could not come down for the weekend. Apparently, they were discharging his father on Friday and everybody was expected to be at the house over the weekend.
That was somewhat vexating as I had now committed to being in the yard. Though in the end it proved to be somewhat convenient.
During the week Dad and I had been moving stuff that we had brought from mother's house, from the storerooms to various locations around the Priory. A lot of the storage boxes had ended up in the empty rooms on the second floor. My modelling stuff was left in the storerooms, as that would go into the workshop, once Matt's people had finished getting it and Dad's offices finished. One box that had not been moved was the box of stuff from the safe.
Friday night, Mum informed us that she would be out all day on Saturday. It seemed that Jenny needed to get into Chelmsford, so Mum was taking her. They had decided that whilst they were there they might as well do some shopping, go to the cinema and have a meal out together. So, that is what had been arranged. Mum informed us that she was unlikely to be back much before nine and we would have to fend for ourselves.
On Saturdays during the winter, only the chandlery opened, and that was only open from ten till three. Although I had told Steve that I would cover the yard today he actually came in just after twelve. He had spent the morning trying to find a legal source of wood to repair the deck of a yacht. The yacht had been built in Florida during the 1920s and its deck was made from strips of Cuban mahogany. This wood was now on the CITES list and difficult to obtain, at least legally. Steve had been hoping to obtain some from one of the salvage places he regularly dealt with. Unfortunately, it seemed as if half the yachts in the world needed replacement Cuban mahogany at this point in time. Steve had had no luck sourcing any.
Over a lunch of pie and chips, that Steve had brought in with him, we discussed options. It was of course possible to obtain some Cuban mahogany provided Steve did not question its source or legitimacy. However, there was no way that Steve would do that. Alternatively, we could use another wood for the repair that could be stained to match the original wood or, the most drastic action, redeck the whole yacht with a new wooden deck that was made from sustainable wood. Steve was going to have to phone the owner and discuss options.
Given that he was going to be in the yard for the rest of the afternoon, Steve told me to get off early, so I left just after one. I got back to the Priory about quarter to two. Dad was in his study. He called out that if I wanted lunch, I would have to sort it myself and he had already eaten. I went through to the study and told him I had pie and chips with Steve.
"Lucky you," he stated. "I had to make to with a cheese sandwich."
I offered to make something more substantial for him, but he declined, informing me that there was a chicken casserole in the low oven which would be ready about five. He did, though, ask me to pop some potatoes into the main oven to bake, and he asked me to come back to the study to have a chat when I was done.
It was just after quarter past when I returned to the study with a tray of drinks. tea for Dad, coffee for me.
"Thanks Johnny. As there is no one else around do you think you could make time to go through that box with me." Dad indicated the box of stuff we had removed from the safe. I told him that now was as good a time as any. It had been quiet at the chandlery this morning and I had finished all my homework for the weekend.
Dad cleared the small conference table he kept in the study. We placed the box on top of it and I removed the lid. Dad reached inside and pulled out a packet of papers. Removing the contents from the packet he spread them on the table.
Dad glanced at them, then told me I needed to look at them. I did. They were all the letters I had written to mother when I was in prep school. I never bothered once I got to public school. There just did not seem to be a point, she never replied to any of my letters. She had, though, kept them. from what I could see each and every one of them. In a safe which was pretty well hidden from detection and which only one other person could know about.
"Why?" I asked. "Why did she keep them?"
"Because they were important to her," Dad replied. "They meant something to her. something she wanted to keep and to remember."
Dad then took the blue covered notebooks from the box. They were Challenger ten by eight manuscript books. There were about eighteen of them. I looked at the pile, questioningly.
"They are her diaries," Dad informed me. "I know she wrote up the events of the day, each night before she went to bed. At least she did during the time I lived with her. It looks like she kept on going after I left."
I picked one up and opened it and started to read.
10th June 1994 – Told Mike that I want a divorce. I hate doing this but it is the only way. If I stay with Mike they can use him as an extra lever to control me. That puts him in danger.
Johnny is also in danger. Don't know how I will protect him.
I stopped reading. This could not be right. This could not be the mother I knew. I told Dad he needed to read this and passed him the diary. He read it, clearly reading more than I had, then closed it and put it down on the table.
"What do you think of it," he asked.
"I'm not sure. It doesn't sound like the mother I knew."
"It sounds like the woman I married." Dad paused for a moment, then took a deep breath. "Johnny, we need to read these carefully. There was clearly more going on than we know about, I think these can probably tell us what."
"Who should we tell?"
"For the time being Johnny I would prefer that we do not tell anyone. Not till we know what is going on. Let's get these into date order, then put them on the shelves. After that I suggest we both make time to read them.
“The thing is, I doubt I will have time to look at them for some time. I would appreciate it, Johnny, if you did not mention these to anybody until we have both looked at them. In the meantime, we better sort them out and put them somewhere we both can get at them."
That's what we did. We sorted the books into date order then placed them on a bookshelf in Dad's study. The diaries started in October 1981, when mother went to university, the last one ended about eight months before her death. a fact I commented on to Dad.
"Johnny, I have no doubt that there is a current diary around somewhere, though I did not see one when we were clearing the house. I wonder if it is in the stuff the police took when they searched the place?"
"Can we find out?" I asked.
"Martin should be able to get a list of what was taken from the house. In fact he probably already has it. I am sure it is something that Bernard would have got onto fairly fast."
Having said that, Dad removed the leather box, which I knew contained my great grandmother’s jewellery, from the storage box. He put the table and opened it. One by one he removed the items of jewellery from the box and laid them out on the table. There were six necklaces, about a dozen broaches, about the same number of rings, several pairs of earrings and a number of ropes of pearls. There were also a number of small boxes. Dad opened one. Inside was a powder compact, the top of which was a fine iridescent blue enamel. The enamel was transparent, and through it the fine machine cut surface of the metal could be seen.
I picked it up, the workmanship of the piece was clearly of the highest quality. Then I turned it over and realised that what I had thought of as the top was actually the underside of the piece. The top was a fine filigree of gold wires, the spaces between the wires set with rare gemstones. The craftsmanship required to make such a piece was outstanding. I looked at Dad.
Dad looked at the piece and shrugged his shoulders. "I'm not an expert so can't tell, but it would not surprise me. Grandma Olga told me her mother was given one of these by her husband, every year on her birthday."
I quickly counted the boxes on the table, there were eighteen of them.
"There are only eighteen of them," I pointed out.
"That's about right. After my Great Grandfather Dimitri got his family safely settled in England, he returned to Russia to join the White Russian army. He was killed shortly after his return."
"Shouldn't these be declared as part of the estate?" I asked. "After all these compacts must be worth a bit if they're Fabergé."
"They probably are Johnny. The thing is, are they part of your mother's estate? They were entrusted by my grandmother to your mother, to give to her daughter or her son's wife. As such they were not given to your mother."
"I suppose Dad, you will need to get them valued because of the insurance cover on this place."
"I probably should, but I think I need to speak with Martin or better still Bernard in the first place before I do anything."
Dad repacked the jewels in the box, then placed it in the bottom draw of this filing cabinet, commenting that he would really have to sort out some safe storage for this place. I told him that I thought he had already got two installed. A fact he confirmed but he pointed out that they were not big enough for this lot.
It took us a good hour to go through the rest of the storage box. Most of it was papers, which had to be read to find out how important they were. Dad sorted them into a number of piles, but never explained the significance of the piles. Near the bottom of the box was an envelope with mother's name handwritten on it in a florid script. Dad opened it and removed a single sheet of paper, which he read, before passing it to me. I looked at it:
These jewels have been in my family for many years. I am handing them to you so that you may give them to your eldest daughter, if you should have one, or to the wife of your eldest son.
I hope you will honour this trust.
Olga Carlton nee Vorontsov
"So, Olga was your father's mother?" I asked.
"Yes, Michael Carlton, my grandfather, was a junior member of the diplomatic corps after World War One. He met Olga when he was assigned with the task of sorting out claims made by the Russian embassy on property that the family were living in. That was in 1920. they were married in 1921.
"However, their marriage caused a problem for the Foreign Office, as it was seen as making Granddad partial to the White Russian cause. This resulted in Granddad being moved over to the Treasury, which accounts for my father becoming an accountant."
"I suppose we better keep this with the jewels," I stated.
"We probably should Johnny. It at least proves that your mother never actually owned them, she just held them in trust. The question is what happens to them now."
"To be honest Dad, I think they should go to Mum. She is your wife and you are the eldest son."
It was gone six before we had finished sorting the box out. We were in the middle of a discussion as to what to do for dinner when the phone rang. I answered it. It was Uncle Bernard, wanting to speak with Dad. I handed the phone to Dad, who chatted with Uncle Bernard for some minutes. He told Bernard about the diaries and the jewels. From what I could make out from Dad's side of the conversation I gathered we could expect a visit from Martin fairly soon.
Once we had our dinner, chicken casserole with baked potatoes, Dad gave me a summary of what Uncle Bernard had said. As far as he was concerned the jewels were not part of mother's estate. The wording of the note clearly meant they were being held in trust. There was, therefore, no objection to them being given to Mum to use, though she would not own them. It was clear that the items were in trust to be used by the female members of the family. Bernard said that the trust needed to be formalised but that could be sorted out later.
It was shortly after ten before Mum got back. Dad asked how her day had gone but Mum seemed somewhat slightly vague about what she and Jenny had been doing in Chelmsford. When she had finished her recitation of events, Dad told her about the jewels. I was sent to fetch them. Mum opened the box and looked at them, taking them out a piece at a time and admiring them.
Dad explained how they had gone from his grandmother Olga to my mother. He also explained how they had passed down through the female line in the family.
Mum looked across the table at Dad and smiled. "Well, we will just have to hope the baby is a girl then."
"Baby!" Dad exclaimed.
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