‘Great Aunt Natty’s ring’

“And eighty’s really the best you can do?”

Her voice came thinner, sadder than she wanted it to. She clasped the telephone gently with both hands. It was one of those old black ones, curved, with a mouthpiece and a lead spiralling off it.

“Thing is, gold’s out of fashion now Mrs Williams. I mean, I’d struggle to sell it meself. Sorry to say it, but we’re talking scrap.”

Every year she had called the jewellers, hoping to sell Great Aunt Natty’s ring. She had always thought that the older things got, the more valuable they were, but that didn’t seem to be the case.

“I see. Yes, I understand.” Her lips thinned, and she tilted the ring up and down, side to side on her finger. She seldom took it out of its box. The three emeralds had become dull, like tumbled jade stones. And as for the ring itself, it could have been brass, not gold. It needed a good clean. But what was the point, when she never wore it? She found herself asking, as her mind wandered, “And how much would it be to give it a polish?”

“Tell you what, Mrs Williams, I’ll do you that for nothing. Just bring it in when you’re next in town. Be happy to do that for you.”

She went the next day. Some might call it fate; others, luck; but either way, by some incredible chance, that also happened to be the day Sir Winston Kenilworth decided to visit the very same jeweller for a valuation of his collection of German pocket watches.

They arrived at the door at precisely the same second: Sir Winston from the left, Mrs Williams from the right. Ever the gentleman, he held the door for her. “After you,” he croaked in a hoarse, deliberate voice. She smiled back at him. What a lovely town this was, she noted silently.

Politely, he allowed her to speak to Mr Wood first, even though he was certain he had reached the door before her. He removed his coat, smoothed back his grey hair, and wondered if his Bavarian single might be worth more than the Hochreloj.

In front of him, the lady handed over a small box. She showed the jeweller a ring. At least he wouldn’t have to wait long. He peered closer as Mr Wood examined it. Emerald. Three cushion stones. 18 carat gold. It was unmistakeable.